Miscellany & Poetry - On food, wine, film, lit & then some.

Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium 2009: a report from the twice-over awesome Adrian Miller & The Rabbi

Cool & amazing things are what happen when you’re busy making other cool & amazing things happen, to paraphrase Lennon. As wrapped up as I am in the Starz Denver Film Festival, I’m aware the world is going on elsewhere without me—especially in Oxford, Mississippi, where the Southern Foodways Alliance, a renowned organization dedicated to “documenting, studying & celebrating the diverse food cultures of the changing American South,” held its annual symposium on Halloween weekend.

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Upon discovering that not 1 but 2 fine gentleman-scholars I know & respect were attending this year, I had no choice but to browbeat them into interviews. You may have met Adrian Miller, an expert in both policy analysis for Governor Ritter & in soul food, when I profiled him here; now meet The Rabbi, aka Mark Rabinowitz. I first encountered the cofounder of major film-industry site indieWIRE & author of The Rabbi Report 2 years ago when he came to cover SDFF 30; I’ve since learned he knows as much about food as he does about movies—including this dessert he sampled at David Chang’s [of Momofuku] symposium luncheon (about which more below. The 1st course was apparently a baby lettuce & ham salad with coffee vinaigrette, something I’d slaughter the pig myself for right about now).

Crackpie Momofuku Milk Bar‘s famous crack pie

***

What brought you to the symposium this year?

MR: I was in the midst of a 9-week road trip around the South in pursuit of film festivals, minor league baseball, good food & civil rights monuments. During the Florida Film Festival, my friend Sigrid Tiedtke mentioned that the SFA director [& acclaimed food writer] John T. Edge was a friend of hers. The name rang a bell & I realized it was his book, Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Guide to the South, I’d been using as one of my culinary guidebooks to the region.

A couple of weeks later, I drove to Oxford to meet John T. (as he’s known) as well as John Currence, owner of 4 fabulous Oxford restaurants. John T. and I had breakfast at Currence’s legendary Big Bad Breakfast & that was that: I committed to attending on the spot.

AM: I’ve attended the SFA Symposium since 2002. As with Rabbi Mark, it started with John T. Edge. I was in the initial phases of researching my soul food history [more on which in the abovelinked blogpost] & I came across the Southern Foodways Alliance. I e-mailed John T.,  & after a brief exchange, he persuaded me to attend the SFA’s field trip to Austin, TX. Every year the SFA symposium has a theme & a corresponding field trip to reflect the theme. In 2002, the theme was barbecue.

I ended up spending 3 days in Austin & environs on a SFA-curated barbecue tour. It was 3 of the happiest days of my life. I figured that a group tour set up would have lots of leftovers, so I brought plastic food storage bags. I talked the hotel into letting me store the barbecue in its restaurant’s refrigerator. Everyone on the trip was clowning me, but they were really jealous when I went home with several bags of excellent barbecue. Even the airline folks wanted to “confiscate” the bag when I checked it!

Since that time, I’ve been a SFA “lifer.” I’ve gone to every symposium since, & I served on the board. In fact, I was responsible, along with John T., for cooking up the yearly themes & symposium programming. My term ended with this symposium, so it was bittersweet. I did get a ceramic pig as a parting gift for my service. It was awkward when the TSA agent at the Memphis Airport said “Sir, do you have a piggy bank in your carryon?” I’m sensing a theme here with the SFA and airports.

Speaking of themes, this year’s was

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Others, for instance those Adrian has helped plan, have been Food & Race, The Gulf South, & Sugar. What did you appreciate most about this year’s theme?


AM:
I really enjoyed the Saturday afternoon segment where [journalist, author & jazz pianist] Tom Piazza, [music critic] Nick Marino, and [author & humorist] Roy Blount, Jr. all held forth on food imagery in music. I think Tom Piazza had the best line at the symposium when he referenced the blues lyric “I heard the voice of a pork chop.”

MR: There’s a visceral and emotional connection to both food & music that starts very early in life. But on this one I have to admit to being a bit of a douche—I missed what was apparently the musical highlight of the event, the morning performance/invocation by [soul & gospel legend] Otis Clay & his band. As for other performances, I have to echo Adrian below & say that Ballet Memphis’s Chitlin Ballet was exceptional.

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What was one of the most surprising moments of the symposium?

MR: I’m not sure “surprising” is the right word for it, but [New Orleans Times-Picayune dining critic] Brett Anderson’s speech about New Orleans music & food was an unexpectedly moving experience, as Brett had to stop several times to compose himself while discussing Katrina. All the video coverage in the world can’t make up for witnessing pure human emotion up close & personally. But what most struck me overall was the summer camp aspect. For those of you who have never been to camp, at the best of them, the last day is heartbreaking. You just don’t want to leave. And on Sunday, Oxford’s historic Courthouse Square was full of dawdling symposium attendees, dragging their heels.


AM:
For me it was the Chitlin Ballet performed on Sunday morning [pictured above]. Roy Blount, Jr. has collected 1000s of songs that reference Southern food, and he donated them to the University of Mississippi archives. Someone took the time to carefully craft a ballet from all the source material, and it was wonderfully danced by the Ballet Memphis. I was curious about it when I saw it on the program…and I’m still curious.

What were some of your favorite dishes?

MR: David Chang’s Bo Ssäm (slow-roasted pork shoulder) was amazing & perfectly paired with kimchi brussels sprouts & whole peanuts.

David Chang Bo Ssam at SFA Viking Range Lunch 10-31-09 Leslie Kelly photo: Leslie Kelly

Then there was a book signing sponsored by the National Peanut Board, with food & cocktails prepared by Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm with refreshments based on, well, peanuts. Peanuts are legumes; if handled correctly, the bean-pea flavor of the peanut comes out. The farm’s pork rillettes with peanuts were amazing, as was a cocktail of strained, boiled peanut milk with Jameson’s, amaretto &, believe it or not, roasted marshmallow syrup. [pause for my drool]


AM:
I thought David Chang’s meal was amazing too, but my heart & stomach go to the Sunday brunch [menu below] that was prepared by Chef Bryan Caswell of Reef Restaurant in Houston, Texas, &

Chef John Currence at SFA Vikiing Range Lunch 10-31-09
John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford.

We always have a slammin’ brunch to round out the weekend, & this one didn’t disappoint. I was especially seduced by the gumbo gravy (essentially gumbo). The menu paired it with biscuits, but I decided to ladle it over a soft pillow of true Southern grits–never instant! It was yummy!

White Lily Biscuit Brunch

Piping-Hot White Lily Biscuits with Gumbo Gravy

Big Bad Bacon & Breakfast Sausage

Straight-Outta-the-Gulf Fish with Pecan and Shallot Cracklins, Potlikker, & Collards

Next year, my turn.

The Scoop Series: spotlight on Rebecca Ballenger, a community garden–founding, backyard chicken–raising, solar oven–using baker of onion casseroles, with recipe & a cameo appearance by Rachael Ray

Back in the 1980s when the word alternative as applied to youth culture still meant something, man, before it became doublespeak for blatantly commercial, my high school pals & I were its embodiment—

Kung fu hard sole -wearing, Sexton-Summer1974-reading,

Siouxsie_and_the_banshees-listening, A Touch of Clove-smoking,

self-styled insurgents against the stultifying god-guns-&-goat-roping conformism of Reagan-era Oklahoma. We were all, we knew, destined for artistic greatness &, more important, cute as hell.

Among us kimono-clad or skateboard-toting or white-facepainted mildly defiant ones was Rebecca Long, Reb-L for short. She was dark like me & witty like I fancied myself & shared my taste for comically huge costume jewelry.

Reconnecting 20 years later, we find we have more in common than ever. Except insofar as she does myriad fascinating things with her life & I just sit around eating & getting drunk or thinking about eating & getting drunk. (See artistic greatness.)

Above all, out in Arizona, she pretty much walks the walk of a green activist—but humbly, without talking the fucking annoying talk. Thus was I determined to break her silence; in so doing, I discovered that the way in which her brain processes information & shapes it into narrative is delightfully strange & worth revealing in detail & at length.

Tell the people who you are in a nutshell, without referencing Austin Powers.

Clearly, I have no clue who I am or I wouldn’t continue to seek the newest sparkly objects to capture my attention. My blog domain, Rebel with a Blog, is a vestige from high school. My junk mail account is a variant on Glamour Girl. I’m neither glamorous nor a rebel, so I obviously like to point out the obvious by pretending to be the opposite.

No, you do shit like teach kids out in the desert about sustainable agriculture. How? Is that your job?

The short answer is that I’m interacting with my children & their friends at their schools. It’s not my job, not my training, not my education, not my background, not my anything. But I love it. It’s the most fun pain in the ass ever.

A billion years ago, I found myself in the bird sanctuary—a 2.5-acre cultivated desert area at my children’s school—discussing the food harvests of pre-Columbian Sonoran Desert locals with kindergarteners:

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prickly pears, mesquite beanpod flour, dirt—all the usual stuff.

My son’s teacher at the time was interested in all variety of sustainable-living issues. She knew I was in the desert discussing food with kids & that the primary source of my beef & produce was, & still is, local, through Tucson Community Supported Agriculture. I’m sure locavorism is listed somewhere among the Stuff White People Like but, being white, I just have to suck that up. The teacher asked if I would support a grant to establish a communal edible garden at the school. Being also a fool, I agreed.

My daughter’s school has a natural space on the premises, which was purchased with a Heritage Grant. After landscaping it, we were able to host educational events in what we then called the bird sanctuary. As we brought in more classes & had more events, we renamed it Borton Environmental Learning Lab, or BELL. Here’s me on Earth Day, the one in the goofy hat, discussing ground-hole identification: “Who lives down there?”

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This year we added a community garden. First we put in the coop, then we planted veggies & started composting. We are currently making a farm stand. So here I am, deep into backyard chickens, soil enrichment & onion festivals.

So the coop at school inspired you to build a coop at home? What’s it like to raise chickens? Party all the time?

My chickens came first. I advise my fellow gardeners at Borton on all things chicken, but I don’t know any more about chickens than I know about dogs or cats. I wanted chickens for, oh, YEARS, but I was hesitant in case they were dirty, expensive, trouble, illegal, whatever.

We started out with a male

Guinea-fowl-info0

guinea fowl.

His name was Guinea & boy, was he loud. But he loved me. I think that made my husband Jesse just the slightest bit jealous; he didn’t care for Guinea all that much. Of course, that could have because he roosted on the neighbor’s house & crowed like all get out—the bird, that is. He was handsome though.

One day Guinea disappeared. For my birthday Jesse got me a replacement guinea. Segunda wasn’t as pretty, but she was quieter. She went home to Jesus the night of my son’s 8th-birthday sleepover. She was eaten by an owl right outside my bedroom window. I heard the whole thing go down. I had pneumonia & was subsequently hospitalized.

Guinea & Segunda prepped us for chickens. Some friends who were leaving town offered us their flock, which was already laying, so we had to build a coop quick. The guineas’ home had been an old dog crate we pimped out with a perch & mirrors (they like to look at themselves). Chicken coops are coolest when made from salvaged materials, though you can buy premade ones. Ours is recently remodeled with the children’s old playset. It used to be decorated with

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tin flowers (more photos & info hereherehere),

but now it’s insulated with that stuff used to cover a water heater & Jesse’s old Jeep windows.

The schedule is easy; we let them out to range in the morning & feed them at some point. They roost themselves & we lock out the predators. In the day time, the dog &

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cat keep them company & keep potential problems at bay.

We like to sit & watch them. Sometimes we feed them raisins by hand. They are soft and fluffy, so can be nice to hold, but I am always waiting to be pooped on, & I don’t care to be pooped on.

We have three standards: a Cochin, Sailor Moon or Big Mamma as I like to call her; an Americana, Persephone; & a Barred Rock, Daisy. We have three bantams (smaller in size than standards). One is a Buff Orpington (not to be confused with, say,

Palmer
Dynasty2

Palmer Cortlandt from All My Children or Blake Carrington from Dynasty—Denved.),

Buttercup, & the other two are two of those (as my great aunt calls plants she can’t name)—Firefly & Flower. Some people do not feel that chickens should be named, but ours are docile, friendly & members of the family.

Chickens should be on appropriate feed. Are they pullets? They need to be on grow feed. Are they laying? They need to be on lay feed. Are they boilers? Let’s not think on boilers for this love fest. To be a good egg producer, hens need calcium for the shell, protein for the yolk & grit for digestion. They also need lots of water; the egg white is 90% water. They will eat any kitchen scraps, but not rotten food or potato skins (so you won’t see them at the bar at Chili’s). The best part about that is that you get to feed your hens & use their poop to heat up your compost. No waste!

I’d like to branch out into ducks. Apparently duck eggs are the bomb for baking. Plus they swim around in kiddie pools. How sweet is that?

What do you do with the eggs?

For one thing, we measure them. We were afraid my son wasn’t getting enough math and science iat school. Our daughter is still a bit young, but is it ever too early to introduce empirical methods? We measure the frequency of egg production by hen (the banties lay small white eggs, the Americana lays green eggs & the other standards lay brown eggs) & by flock. We measure the width—which is based on pelvis size & which is practically the same by hen— & the length, which has more variance, & which some say can indicate whether the chicks will be male or female. When the hens are molting, or losing their feathers, they do not lay.

At the height of their production, we got six eggs per day (one from each hen). That was enough for us to share & to establish a regular gift to our neighbors. Now only our Americana is laying and the Barred Rock has just started back after molting. Unfortunately, the cat loves to sleep in their nest & and the hens aren’t that keen on laying around her. We are getting maybe six eggs per week.

A word about the flavor of backyard eggs—heaven. I’m not even kidding. Fresh eggs can’t be beat. People are knocking down my door to be my friend thinking they’ll get eggs out of me. From my hens, I mean. The difference for me is really in the texture: smooth, fluffy, light & not at all rubbery. Older eggs are better for boiling, so use store-bought for that.

You have been known to cook said eggs in your solar oven. What’s that all about?

My solar oven is soon to be on loan to Rachael Ray. I mean, not directly to her but to her producers, who are visiting the school. RR is interested in the garden & in the kids selling their goods at market. But technically, it’s not my oven; rather, it’s on loan from one of the most amazing women I’ve ever met in life. She used to be in charge of the bird sanctuary, but she moved to Mexico with her family. As a salve for my shredded heart [at her departure], she loaned me her solar oven. I immediately baked potatoes. Then I made brownies. In general I’ve had success with solar cooking, but dressing on Thanksgiving Day—not so much. It was overcast. I recommend sunny Thanksgivings where possible.

What is it exactly?

Get in your

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WABAC machine

& head to Miami in the 1970s, where middle-aged women in knitted swimwear fry themselves with reflective panels poolside at the resort. Like all great inventions (e.g. kites that attract lightning), it wasn’t long before a dual purpose was discovered for those panels: cook skin, cook stuff. Unfortunately early solar oven models didn’t live up to their potential because the panels could only generate heat enough to bake flesh. Often they left soft gooey middles in casseroles, much to the consternation of the few June Cleavers who hadn’t turned to prepackaged foods.

Misty Rainbow Cloverleaf was also way grossed out, but she was dedicated to pinko liberal causes like earth loving. One day she watched horrified as her son, perched on the concrete roof of the commune’s underground bunker, burned ants by directing the sun’s rays through a magnifying glass. Voila! The answer to her prayers. The reflective beach panels could capture a maximum amount of the sun’s rays & direct them through a glass oven door. The glass door would have the additional benefit of allowing her children to see their

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in action.

Okay, really, I know NOTHING about solar ovens except that they are an entertaining diversion, economical & environmentally sound. They cost around $250, which is ridiculous because the basic model is a wooden box painted black inside, with a self-leveling shelf, a glass door & metal wings. Solar ovens have been around forever & Peace Corps alums can often make them using tinfoil & a pizza box.

RLoven2

Recently I made onion pudding. I like it because it sounds disgusting, but also because wow, YUM. One of the things I appreciate about Denveater is the standard disclaimer about measurements. That’s also the way I roll. The disclaimer should apply to recipe titles. If you are really anti-onion pudding, call it a casserole. Throw peppers into it & call it a frittata. Pour it in a crust & have yourself some refrigerator pie—or quiche, if you insist, though that totally goes against the whole vibe I’m working toward.

Without further ado:


Onion Pudding

(brashly stolen from Southern Living, served by my ‘Bama Mama & adapted by me)

RLonion2

Ingredients

6 large eggs (I used 7 because two were from our bantam hens, so were smallish)
2 c. heavy cream
3 oz. shredded parmesan
3 T. all-purpose flour (Why don’t I have any of this? I use a combo of wheat pastry flour and bread flour)

1 T. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1/2 c. butter  (but pul-LEEZE. Less will suffice)
6 medium-size onions (I used my CSA yellow onions)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Stir together first 3 ingredients.
Combine flour & next three ingredients.
Add dry to wet.

Caramelize onions in butter until they reach

RLonion

this state.

Stir onions into egg mixture & transfer to a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish.
Bake for 30 minutes or until set.

And what’s this about Rachael Ray borrowing your oven?

I hope her producers are gentle with “my” solar oven while they have her. I hope they remember that she works best when her panels & window are clean. Will they remember to flip up the nylon closure so that it doesn’t melt from the manufactured heat? Oh! And she likes to be tilted 30° west of the direct rays of the sun. That way she doesn’t have to be shifted while cooking.

Dear oven, I’m so sorry I pimped you out like this. My explanation, because it’s no excuse, is that it’s for the betterment of the world. People all across America might think twice about passive energy. Children will be amazed by the sun’s power. You will shine brightly. And I will be there to pick you up & dust you off. Then, we will resume our experiments with casseroles. Also I’ve got the best granola bar recipe…

In that case, to be continued at some point in some way, shape or form…

The Scoop Series: Interview with an America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Country senior editor

At a wedding last summer on the lawn of this crazy historical Newport mansion (a rental, of course, not owned by anyone I know or would ever have occasion to associate with)

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I ran an into an old friend & former editor of mine from Boston, who’s now a senior editor at America’s Test Kitchen.

His specific duties as “de facto managing editor” for Cook’s Country magazine are, & I quote:

—Steering copy through the various stages of editing, from story conception to sending files to the printer, & making sure the trains all run on time

—Editing copy for readability & “cooking/food plausibility” (his punctuation)

—Working with the design team to make sure we’re presenting a unified & brand-consistent front

—Producing & writing tasting features, in which we taste, say, 8 supermarket peanut butters & determine a winner

—Helping guide the recipe development process by serving as a taster & giving feedback

Goddamn dream job, right? In goddamn dreamland where all the colors are like a Delaunay painting & you drink champagne all day?

1_1954_CCCRChampagne_narrowweb__300x467,0 = 9 to 5

Months after asking him to spread the wealth of his knowledge around this here blog, I finally got over the fear of breaking out into a jealous rage & committing mayhem upon learning just what it is he does all day, bucked up & grilled him:

How’d you get the gig, guy?

It requires a strong background in food. My own background is split between restaurant journalism, bakery and catering work as a pup, and an intense passion for home cooking and cookbooks. While I was being interviewed, I spoke with one person for 30 minutes about competition barbecue, with another for 20 minutes about Marcella Hazan, and with yet another about the mechanics of peeling and prepping butternut squash.

Butternut_Squash_candle

serving suggestion courtesy of Denveater

Walk us through a typical day. (Note: Having literally walked through the offices of ATK in Brookline, MA, a couple of times before to write a profile on Christopher Kimball, i.e. the founder of Cook’s Illustrated, I can tell you up front they’re super-cool. Unless they’ve since been remodeled, they’re painted in all these happy colors (see Delaunay above) & covered with floor-length blackboards for chalking ideas on. & of course there’s the sweet kitchen, which you can catch a glimpse of here. Plus there’s lots of bustling about with utensils & such past endless shelves full of cookbooks).

A typical day entails 1 or 2 editorial meetings: these can focus on recipes, scheduling, photography, or writing. I work on 2 or 3 issues of the magazine concurrently.

10 to 15 times a day my phone rings with a message to come down to the test kitchen to taste food a Cook’s Country test cook is developing. We taste as many as 6 iterations of the same dish blind & in silence, filling out a tasting sheet with our comments & preferences. Another senior editor is in charge of recipe development, so he’ll then assess all feedback & give direction for the the next set of tests: try swapping the cream for half-&-half; up the salt by 1/8 teaspoon; try adding dried mushrooms to the slow cooker; take the skin off the chicken thighs before searing; etc. Very rarely does anyone at ATK eat a proper lunch–we’re eating all day.

That’s a switch from your formerly more straightforward editorial position, in which you would just tell me to go out & eat chicken feet or drink espresso martinis & I did. How have you managed to step up to the plate, so to speak?

Many of the cooks & editors at ATK were restaurant cooks before landing here; as much as I like to think I know about food, the one thing I’ve never done is work on the line at a busy restaurant. So in some ways I was behind the 8-ball in terms of my food knowledge & experience when I was hired. I suppose I’m most proud of the way my palate has continued to evolve to the point where I’ve caught up: I can detect minute changes in recipes & contribute intelligent feedback for efficient recipe development. It might sound geeky & precious, but in a way that his how we measure competency.


Give us an example.

ATK uses a statistical data collection process whereby we poll readers as to what they’d be interested in reading about. Potential topics—be they tasting topics, equipment testing topics, or recipes—must achieve a certain score to be placed on an editorial schedule.

When we do large tastings, we use a control; if we’re lining up 8 strawberry jams, the tasting panel tastes 9 samples—1 is repeated so we can make sure it gets similar scores from tasters. If the scores for the control are disparate, we throw out the results and start again. So we always look at the key at the end of a tasting to see if we “got” the control (if we scored it similarly both times). When I started I was often off by 3 or 4 points (out of 10). Gradually, I’ve trained my palate to be more discerning and perceptive, and I rarely boot the control now. My palate is okay now, but there are a few “super palates” or “supertasters” at our company, and it’s pretty interesting how they can detect such minute things as 1/4 teaspoon of sugar in a stew.

One big surprise to me [during the jam tasting] was that Smuckers’ strawberry jam beat out fancy French and boutique brands. One thing I’ve learned from doing this is that often the bigger manufacturers have a better balance of flavors because they can spend more money formulating JUST the right combinations of ingredients–their R&D budgets are huge.

Smuckers-Straw-Presrv#1?!?


What’s most fun about your job?

I have fun every time I walk into the kitchen and talk with the test cooks and eat their food. I have fun when I have to cook and they give me crap about my knife skills, or my (relative) clumsiness with heat management, or how I can’t always tell if a pork chop is done just by touching it. It’s really fun to watch America’s Test Kitchen being filmed in the kitchen–to see recipes that I had a hand in developing coming to life in that way.

***End of interview. Commencement of mayhem.

The Scoop Series: DNC SchmeeNC—The American Cheese Society 25th Anniversary Conference, with Forward Foods’ Steve “Wampus” Reynolds

Among Norman, Oklahoma’s most famous sons: James Garner. Vince Gill. Wampus.

Certainly Steve Reynolds is a solid fixture in my old hometown, cheered on in high school for various ingenious & occasionally illicit stunts detailed here, then for his winning turn on Jeopardy, & now for Forward Foods, the gourmet shop he runs with his charming wife Suzy Thompson, which is as fine as any I’ve frequented in Boston or Denver, boasting a luscious cheese selection & gastronomic curios galore, like

FFmayoFFchips1 &

FFlavendercheese &
FFgruyere

When Steve told me he had just returned from the American Cheese Society’s annual conference, I pressured him to dish until he caved:

What’s all this about? I assume there’s a tasting floor and also seminars and so forth? Do people dress up like dancing cheeses?

The ACS was in Chicago this year (last year, Burlington). It’s attended by cheesemakers, cheese & specialty-food wholesalers, cheese retailers, consultants, dairy scientists, a bunch of people who say they’re writers and others I’m forgetting. There are a couple of seminars a day and they’re aimed at different people—I wasn’t the target for “Demystifying Rennet and Coagulants.” [Other tempting topics: “Understanding Butter Flavor”; “Sell It or Smell It: Extending the Life of a Bloomy Soft Ripened Cheese.”]

Before the first seminars, different groups—Wisconsin cheesemakers, California cheese groups, wholesalers—laid out a spread for people. No one dressed up like a dancing cheese, pervert. Some folks did wear cow-spotted overalls and hard hats when they fashioned the Chicago skyline out of cheese. The Sears Tower was probably six feet tall. It looked to be all cheddar and jack. You don’t want a ten-grand Roquefort Carles sculpture.

If you ever want to feel more grossly full than you’ve ever felt in your life, go to the Festival of Cheese—1000 different cheeses laid out with beer & wine & all the condiments. Ugh. It’s sushi for me for awhile.

What was the coolest seminar you attended?

There was one seminar where Chicago chefs made courses with American artisanal cheeses (side note: HUGE circular debates about the word “artisanal” abounded). We ate double macaroons with a triple crème Fleur de Teche from Bittersweet Plantation, a savory pannacotta with Humboldt Fog & a melted Hudson Valley Camembert on brioche. They all RAWKED.

What was the weirdest or dumbest thing you encountered there?

Cranberry-chipotle flavored cheese. Enough said.

If you could only eat 1 kind of cheese for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

WHY DO YOU PRESENT THIS NIGHTMARE!?! I guess I would do a gouda or cheddar– something versatile, but I would miss the blues fo sho. You know how when you have a perfect bite at a great restaurant that makes you close your eyes? So many cheeses deliver that.

The Scoop Series: Squishy disquisition on peanut butter (Part 1)—interview with a PB industry insider

Scott works at a small company that makes peanut butter. A really small company. No, smaller. If I said, “in a nutshell, it’s small,” I’d probably be speaking literally. Being peanut butter’s Mel, upon meeting Scott I had to pester him for a brief interview. Probably as freaked as Bret & Jemaine are here, he nonetheless kindly agreed.

How would you define the perfect PB and how have you arrived at that definition? 

I grew up on Jif; I was terrified by any other brand.

Not-Jpbc = CopyofMunchScream

As I got a little older, I started to go, “Oh, this is full of things that want to kill me.” I swapped, for a little while, to the organic oil-on-top stuff, but so much of it tastes like drywall.

Peanutbutterspoon
= <Drywall5

I know this sounds like absolute shill-talk, but I love my company’s plain PB. You get to taste the nut, which is something that, mysteriously, a lot of PB makers forget to look for. It just has a fresh, deep, roasted flavor that I haven’t found in other brands as well a little salty kick that reminds you: “Oh, it’s not just a ‘dessert’ food.”

What do you love about the industry you’re in (not your job per se) and why? What are you most horrified by?

I remember being in college and seeing kids surrounded by stacks of books and thinking, “I don’t love anything that much.” When food really came into my life, I found myself in the library surrounded by stacks of cookbooks and I kind of went, “Oh.” Tradeshows are a definite plus; you leave with a giant sack of premium chocolate and cheese and cookies and mixes and teas and whatever.
I also love our product, so getting paid to proselytize is great, especially when I feel like I’m really helping to better people’s lives. Or their pantries, anyway. What scares me the most is seeing the kind of things big companies are putting into food. Spend an afternoon with a food label and Wikipedia and the things you’ll find out—yikes. Some of the shortcuts they employ are freaky.


Know any funny stories/urban myths about accidents involving PB? Aside from that one about how eating a spoonful prior to taking a breathalyzer can skew the results toward a lower blood-alcohol level, so keep a jar in your glove compartment? Not a firsthand account, mind you.

Not offhand, but if you do a Google Image Search for “peanut butter,” you get a picture of that baby covered in PB. It’s supposed to be cute, but it scares me to death. Like Anne Geddes on acid.

PeanutButter


=


“Anne Geddes Starting to Lose It,” The Onion, 7/25/01

Anne-Geddes

b/c

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!!!

Do people taste PB the way they taste wine? Is there a whole jargon for tasting? Can you share some terms with us?

It’s funny you should ask, because we actually have a small handout on pairing our peanut butters with wine. I haven’t tried any of them. One suggestion was to pair peanut butter with crackers and serve it alongside a rosé.

We don’t have an official lexicon for PB tasting, but there are definitely some criteria we use when we’re testing a new flavor. For us, the flavor has to work with the PB. We try to keep it not so sweet.

F y’all’s I, I came across a scientific study that attempted to create a PB vocabulary, with one chart titled Definitions of Attributes to Describe Roasted Peanuts:

Appearance

Brown Color
The intensity or the strength of brown color from light to dark brown.



Roughness

The appearance associated with uneven surface.


Glossy

The appearance associated with the amount of light reflected by
the product surface.

Powdery
The appearance associated with the amount of powder particles on
the surface.


Aromatics
Roasted Peanutty
The aroma associated with medium roasted peanuts.

Oxidized
The aroma associated with rancid fats and oils.

Cardboard
The aroma associated with wet cardboard.

Raw/Beany
The aroma associated with raw peanuts having green bean
character.

Tastes
Sweetness
Taste on the tongue associated with sucrose solutions.

Salty
Taste on the tongue associated with sodium chloride solutions.

Sour
Taste on the tongue associated with acidic agents such as citric
acid solutions.

Bitterness
Taste on the tongue associated with bitter solutions such as
caffeine.

Texture
Hardness
Force needed to compress a food between molar teeth.

Crunchiness
Force needed and amount of sound generated from chewing a sample
with molar teeth.

Tooth Pack
The amount of sample left in or on teeth after chewing.


As in “After a bite of that glossy oxidized spread which I would associate with citric acid, my tooth pack is huge!”



The Director’s favorite snack is a PB & yellow mustard sandwich. What say you to this?

The only thing I can say is, if you love it, eat it! But PB and mustard? I’ll hold my tongue—as far away from that sandwich as possible.

In Part 2, we’ll be holding our tongues to it. Stay tuned (or stuck, as the case may be).