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

And The Farmer’s Kitchen Goes To…Sass Squash (But You All Get 2 Recipes!)

I asked Chef Shanks to choose the winner of her new cookbook, The Farmer’s Kitchen, & so she has—congrats, Sass Squash. But all her sage advice regarding your produce problems remains right here; better still, she’s allowing me to post 2 of the recipes to which she alluded in her comments.

And best of all, your can score your own copy here.

GINGER-SESAME BOK CHOY
This recipe works well with Swiss chard and/or Napa cabbage, though the greens should be cut into 1-inch pieces instead of being left whole.

3 large or 6 small heads bok choy
2 tablespoons dark roasted sesame oil (such as Kadoya brand)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
¼ cup sake or white wine
2 tablespoons mild soy sauce or 1 tablespoon double dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons butter
salt and lemon juice, to taste

1. Cut whole heads longitudinally in half and rinse thoroughly.
2. In a large skillet, heat sesame oil over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger, sauté for 2 minutes, or until garlic just begins to soften. Add bok choy halves, cut side down, and pepper.
3. Cover the greens and steam for 1 minute. Add sake or white wine and soy sauce. Flip bok choy.
4. When inner core is just soft (about 3 minutes, depending on size), add butter. Shake pan to incorporate.
5. Adjust seasoning with salt and lemon juice if necessary.

BEET VINAIGRETTE
This vinaigrette can be used for a salad or as a sauce for roast lamb or salmon. Sautéed portobellos served alongside would complement the vinaigrette, bringing out the sweet earthy flavors.

1 small beet, cooked until exceedingly tender
½ cup pomegranate juice
1 small shallot, peeled and coarsely chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
leaves from 1 sprig of thyme
½ lime, juiced
salt and pepper to taste

1. Peel and chop cooked beet. Put in a blender with the pomegranate juice and shallot.
2. Being careful about splatters, pour in olive oil. Add thyme and purée for 10 seconds more.
3. Season with lime juice, salt and pepper.

Hey Kids, Wanna Win a Copy of The Farmer’s Kitchen Cookbook?

A decade ago, when I was but a budding food writer, I took a class on knife skills at the Boston Center for Adult Education with one Julia Shanks. Aside from having the best name for a chef ever, she was just so darned likeable—smart, funny, easygoing. So it comes as no surprise to me that her new cookbook with Brett Grohsgal, The Farmer’s Kitchen: The Ultimate Guide to Enjoying Your CSA & Farmer’s Market Foods, is equally sharp & charming as well as accessible.

It starts with a thorough produce glossary describing the characteristics and uses of everything from winesap apples to Beauregard sweet potatoes & neck pumpkins to Coletto viola turnips, as well as an engaging glossary of techniques & a section on storing produce. What follows are more than 200 recipes celebrating the bounty of gardens & farms. Heavily but not strictly vegetarian, they include apple-hazelnut hash, arugula souffle, okra fritters, meatloaf with lamb & spaghetti squash, coconut-sorrel soup with shrimp, raspberry pancakes, & more—a variety of pizzas, pickles, sauces & dressings, beverages, etc.

Chef Shanks has graciously agreed to give away a copy to one lucky reader on this here blog. To win it, just submit your most pressing question about produce to the comments section; she’ll answer the winner’s conundrum.

 

A Response to B. R. Myers’s “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies,” Part 2

***Continued from Part 1. I’m sober now.***

Speaking of elitism: I don’t know where Myers lives, but it’s wherever this claim can be made without eye-blinks or back-ups: “Restaurant reviews are notorious for touting $100 lunches as great value for money.”

Among whom are they “notorious”? The same “foodies” who actually read them, whom the entire article otherwise indicates are brainwashed to swallow them whole? Implicit contradiction aside, I’ve never read, back in Boston or here in Denver, a review calling a $100 lunch a “great value.” Even assuming there are 1 or 2 such write-ups out there, they’re far from the rule. So what’s his point? Well, mainly it’s just a segue for the claim that such “doublespeak now comes in more pious tones, especially when foodies feign concern for animals.”

Myers takes to task postindustrial “foodies'” newfound appreciation for/attempt to understand the cycle of food production by, for example, choosing to experience the slaughter & preparation of animals firsthand. His take is that it’s at once a bloodthirsty & self-congratulatory celebration of “the biblical idea of man as born lord of the world.” Why? Because Bourdain, the ultimate tongue-in-cheek controversy-courter, gleefully says as much. Because according to Pollan, “We have eaten them for so long that meat-eating has shaped our souls.” (This quotation is offered completely out of context; never mind that Pollan’s entire body of work is shaped by his struggle with the limits of carnivorous behavior.) Because he’s read an essay that portrays “children clamoring to kill their own cow—or wanting to see a pig shot, then ripped open with a chain saw: ‘YEEEEAAAAH!’”

Not once does Myers entertain the notion, except sarcastically, that bearing witness to an animal’s death might, in fact, furnish a mature adult, capable of thinking for him/herself—or even a child who reaches a point of retro/introspection—with a valid opportunity to reflect on the meaning of meat-eating, to develop new respect for the process & the creature’s role therein. The very real possibility that such moments might indeed be teachable ones, leading to a reduction in meat consumption &/or a determination to consume more ethically & sustainably, receives only this pooh-pooh: “Note that the foodies’ pride in eating ‘nose to tail’ is no different from factory-farm boasts of ‘using everything but the oink.’ As if such token frugality could make up for the caloric wastefulness & environmental damage that result from meat farming!”

Again, I’m not sure what his point is—implicitly he’s pro-vegetarian, but he doesn’t bother to construct any thesis to that end. He’s also of course implying that “foodies” choose to remain blissfully unaware or defensively stubborn regarding the consequences of their carnivorous practices—which simply isn’t the case. But the ambivalence central to Pollan’s work, the concerns expressed by interested eaters in all manner of forms & forums about balancing the welfare of animals with the practice of eating them, don’t fit his narrative, so he simply ignores them. As for conscious nose-to-tail eating: just because he says it’s no different than the factory method of throwing every last bit of carcass into processed meat products doesn’t make it so. The qualitative differences—the way the animals are fed, housed & butchered, the way they’re treated in every sense of the word, alive & dead, medically & chemically—are quite simply & obviously enormous. In short, he’s not arguing, he’s just bitching.

Another specious excuse for meat-eating, Myers says, involves its association with tradition—with concern for & interest in traditional foodways: “Enjoinders to put the food provider’s feelings above all else are just part of the greater effort to sanctify food itself.” To prove it, he cites a few works by authors (again, the ones he has chosen to represent “us”) who claim to put food before faith—including an essay by Dana Goodyear that “tells how a restaurant served head cheese (meat jelly made from an animal’s head) to an unwitting Jew:

One woman, when [chef Jon] Shook finally had a chance to explain, spat it out on the table and said, ‘Oh my fucking God, I’ve been kosher for thirty-two years.’ Shook giggled, recollecting. ‘Not any more you ain’t!’

We are meant to chuckle too; the woman (who I am sure expressed herself in less profane terms) got what she deserved. Most of us consider it a virtue to maintain our principles in the face of social pressure, but in the involuted world of gourmet morals, constancy is rudeness. One must never spoil a dinner party for mere religious or ethical reasons.”

Now, I haven’t read this essay; I don’t know what readers are “meant” to do in context. But personally, I find the deception portrayed therein horrifying, not funny. I suspect if one surveyed any group of people, “foodie” or otherwise, one would find that some deem the scenario comical, some appalling, depending on the sociocultural mores to which they adhere. Do I sympathize in general with Bourdain’s cited observation that “taking your belief system on the road—or to other people’s houses—makes me angry”? Yes. Does that mean I don’t recognize exceptions to the rule, even if Bourdain doesn’t? Absolutely not. (Yet again, much of Myers’ argument depends on the assumption that all “foodies” agree with every word ever written by the authors he has chosen to represent our views.) And one major exception to the rule would involve deception. There’s a huge difference between deciding of one’s own volition to break a dietary law—for the sake of experience, for the sake of communion with another human being, etc.—& learning after the fact that one was tricked into doing so. But Myers doesn’t acknowledge that he’s conflating the two scenarios with the above example.

To return to his ultimate point that “foodies” are single-minded, shallow, lacking the “self-critical [nature] & “dazzlingly wide range of interests” that, um, Motley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx shows in Heroin Diaries (this, by the way, is the guy who tweets such deep thoughts as “As we head towards midnight i ask you this: What do you want out of your life. Write it down…Make it happen…..So,what is it?”). In response, I can only to return to mine: relying on the words of a few food writers—for whom food is, yes, a living—as evidence that all “foodies” (whose careers may or may not be food-related) care only about food at any cost is just silly & pointless. Next time, Myers, try interviewing & researching the people you’re profiling, not reading a few articles you—not “we”—take as gospel. You might find that they’re as heterogenous as—get this!—any other group of people you could paint with a broad brush after reading a couple of books written by people with a particular agenda.

A Response to B. R. Myers’s “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies,” Part 1

***This will be written in 2 parts, as this article made me drunk.***

Who are the “foodies” to whom B. R. Myers refers in his article for The Atlantic, “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies?”

They are:

a) “as similar to each other as they are different from everyone else.”

b) “largely motivated by their traditional elitism.”

c) “feign[ers of] concern for animals.”

d) “certainly single-minded…& single-mindedness…is always a littleness of soul.”

As evidence for this handsome portrait, he mainly cites a few passages from a few contemporary food writers, among them the ever-controversial Anthony Bourdain, & makes passing reference to equally controversial groups like the Gastronauts, sans mention of controversy, thereby giving the impression that we “foodies” take their word as gospel—because we all “equat[e] eating with worship…with a straight face.” (On the contrary, see: Food Writing 101, by me & MC Slim JB.)

Let’s unpack this, shall we?

First of all, as a food writer myself, I don’t even use the word “we” with a straight face. The word “foodie” itself is a contentious one among—for lack of an agreed-upon better term—interested eaters. Many of us deplore it on the same grounds that Myers does. My theory is that the diminutive ending appeals to diminutive thinkers who throw money at the cutest chefs to dangle the most precious objects before their eyes…

My point is that “we” are a multitude. “We” come from an infinite number of places, of sociocultural backgrounds, of culinary traditions, with an infinite array of attitudes toward food, foodways, & eating. Jesus, spending half a minute on any Chowhound board, Myers might have seen as much—whether or not he would have dismissed any opinions that disproved his narrative or even accorded with his as payments of lip service, à la the assertion that “he [whoever ‘he’ is] even claims to believe that well-treated animals taste better, though his heart isn’t really in it.”

This statement is presented as self-evident proof that “an ever-stronger preference for free-range meats from small local farms” is “motivated by…traditional elitism.” Any logical reasons for the “rejection of factory farms & fast food” are, according to Myers, merely excuses whereby foodies “vaunt[] their penchant for obscenely priced meals, for gorging themselves, even for dining on endangered animals.” He adds, “Only rarely is public attention drawn to the contradiction.” Which public? Again, I suggest he spend half a minute on Chowhound or any other food forum, where debates on such practices rage constantly (take Louisa Kasdon’s article in ZesterDaily on Legal Seafoods’ hotly contested blacklisted-fish dinner). As for “us,” why do we ourselves spend more than half a minute on Chowhound? Myers says it’s because we’re single-minded. Had he bothered to read beyond the authors he, not “we,” designated our philosphers, our priests, he might have stumbled upon, say, this rationale by M.F.K. Fisher (no priest, simply a damned good writer):

“People ask me: ‘Why do you write about food, & eating, & drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power & security, & about love, the way the others do?’ . . . The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry….When I write of hunger, I am really writing about love & the hunger for it, & warmth & the love of it & it is all one.”

But the fact that food, as a life-giving substance, so often operates as a metaphor for life itself, for life experience, is given no credence here. After all, “we foodies” are literalists in his eyes: “Needless to say, no one shows much interest in literature or the arts—the real arts.”

It’s true. Take me. My MFA in poetry & MA in English literature are really just elaborate beards, hard-earned years in the making, for my obsession with food. Sarcasm aside, am I an exception to the rule? Or proof that he’s generalizing to the point of absurdity? As for “real arts”—talk about a phrase students of postmodern/postcolonial literature would chew up & spit out with relish. For someone who’s arguing on behalf of anti-elitist attitudes, he’s sure got some snoot of his own. Consider his take on Kim Severson’s praise of butchers in the NYT:

“We are to believe [such appreciation] is a real national trend here. In fact the public perception of butchers has not changed in the slightest, as can easily be confirmed by telling someone that he or she looks like one. ‘Blankly as a butcher stares,’ Auden’s famous line about the moon, will need no explanatory footnote even a century from now.”

Putting aside the unconfirmed claims regarding the effect of telling someone he or she looks like a butcher, now or 100 years from now (note that he didn’t try it himself, or at least didn’t report on the results): what’s the implication here? That butchers, to a person, are dumb & cruel, or at least that perception makes it so? According to, of all people, Auden (not that I know who he is, since poetry was for me purely a Band-Aid on my foodie cooties)? Who’s elitist now?

Continued here.

Food Writing 101: On Vocabulary—A Love Letter/Bitch Session, by Denveater & MC Slim JB, Part 2

Continued from Part 1.

Words/Phrases MC Slim JB Hates

Slim: “The food writing that most offends me reflects laziness: a reliance on shopworn clichés and the overblown yet vacuous language of restaurant-industry press releases.”

<Verb>ed to perfection. That’s not writing, that a lift from a Denny’s menu. Shame on you.

Washed down with. Nothing says “I really enjoyed that beverage” like calling it a lubricant for your food-chute. [Guilty, but then I’ve never been known for gracefulness at the table—Denveater.]

Mouth-watering. Salivation is like an erection: essential to the process of enjoyment, and a universally-understood signifier of excitement. But while I appreciate my own, I don’t care at all for descriptions of yours.

Drool (as an interjection). Mouth-watering, as said by a teenager in a text message.

To die for. Cute when your Yiddish grandma says it, a deathly cliché when you do.

So good. Empty and stupid even before “Sweet Caroline” became a sports-arena staple.

Foodie. Bad enough that it’s infantile. But it has been coopted by so many ridiculous people who think their love of food somehow makes them extraordinary—from the odious I-got-to-the-It-Place-before-you type to the I’m-pickier-about-my-Cheesecake-Factory-selections-than-you idiot—that it deserves banishment.

Homemade. That should be house-made, unless it was actually made in someone’s home.

Ethnic or authentic. When you say ethnic, I suspect you mean “food from a tradition other than white bread, mid-century American,” which does not reflect well on your worldliness. When you say authentic, I suspect you mean “Just like I had that one time I went to Bangkok for three days”, or “Just like my third-generation Italian-American mom made”, meaning you’re claiming some authority you probably don’t have. Traditional is generally safer and more accurate in both cases.

Crispy (should be crisp). Okay, this might be pure pedantry on my part.

Finger-licking. Unless you mean to say that the venue serves finger food but does not supply napkins, this does not reflect well on your table manners.

From hell. If you’re aiming to describe capsicum heat, or badness, you can do better.

Indulgent. This word makes me think of TV ads trying to glamorize flavored instant coffees. Let’s take it as given that paying to have food prepared and served to you by professionals is already an indulgence. If you mean there’s a lot of fat and sugar in your dish, please be more specific.

Scrumptious. I admit to falling back on simple superlatives and synonyms for delicious on a regular basis. There’s just a glimmer of eye-twinkling in this one that irks me. [Another one I’m partial to, I think because it sounds like the way I eat: scrump, scrump, scrump…Denveater]

Words Denveater Hates

Chowdah, etc. Real accents are charming; feigned, transcribed accents are just embarrassing. Forget “chowdah.” Forget “N’Awlins.” And for God’s sake forget “fuhgeddabouddit.”

Food porn; also crack, orgy, etc. Enough with the faux-edgy references to sex & drugs—yawn. Unless the food you’ve photographed contains actual boobies or you’ve literally been shooting up schmaltz in a back alley, eyes rolling back into your skull, the slang has long since ceased to shock.

¡Olé!; also Opa!, Mangia!, etc. Please, oh, please refrain from the belabored, ethnically stereotyped interjections. Do you actually let it fly during your meal? Does anyone actually shout it at you while serving your meal, outside of the Epcot Center? No, because it’s not a small world after all, it’s a big, bad one where the only proper response to such forced conviviality should be a cold black stare.

Heavenly; also divine, sinful etc. Leave the moral discourse to Sunday sermons & Family Circle. Not only is it not very useful—what exactly does heaven taste like? Ether? The simultaneous ejaculation of 72 virgins?—it just smacks of an era when euphemisms were power plays, when all the ladies wore aprons & stood sobbing quietly in their state-of-the-art kitchens before gleaming refrigerator doors with signs like “A moment on the lips, forever on the hips.” Depressingly prim.

Sammy/sammie. The infantilization of the word “sandwich” is irritating beyond belief not least because it’s pointless as a shortcut—the number of syllables still adds up to 2! Granted, if you’re regressing to toddlerhood as thoroughly as your vocabulary suggests, you may no longer be able to count to 2.

Stoup; also choup. This one goes out to Rachael Ray, who is as much a writer as she is a chef, which is to say not at all. Even “TV personality” gives her too much credit; in fact, it’s her lack thereof that confirms the suspicion that she’s probably a robot built by the Food Network to take over the world one brain-melting slice of microwaved bacon at a time.  That would explain her programmatic abuse of the English language. She defines “stoup” as “thicker than a soup but not quite a stew” (and, even stoupider, “choup” as “thicker than a stew but not quite a chowder”). It’s like that old joke, “Waiter, there’s a hair in my soup!”—I don’t want the hairs she’s splitting (for the sake, I assume, of trademarks) anywhere near my bowl. Depending on the ingredients, a thick, chunky soup is a stew or a chowder; there’s no need or room for an intermediate stage. Longest 15 minutes of fame ever.

MC Slim JB concludes: “I hope readers understand that we’re not being prescriptive here: we want you to write as you write, not as we write. I admit to having committed most of these sins over the years myself. But if you want readers to keep coming back, my advice is to be vigilant against the trite, the vague and the cutesy. If you want to be read like a pro, you’ll have to rise above the level of the typical lazy Yelper. There, we summarized that to perfection, and it was more outrageously awesome than a barrel of vivacious monkeys, LOL! I think we’re done here. ¡Olé!

Food Writing 101: On Vocabulary—A Love Letter/Bitch Session, by Denveater & MC Slim JB, Part 1

Every so often, some Chowhound starts a particularly juicy, funny, & unnerving thread (like this one) about foodie terminology that either tickles or rankles — usually the latter (including “foodie” itself). Without meaning to come off like a Teen Talk Barbie, I can’t help but whine a bit as I read them about the fact that food writing is hard! insofar as there are only so many words to describe the sensation of taste. Play it safe, & you’re bound to bore everyone out of their skulls, yourself included; jazz it up, and you’re sure to raise the howling specter of Restaurant Girl, the New York Daily News’s infamous erstwhile critic whose prose prompted my Boston-based food-critic pal MC Slim JB to host what remains one of my favorite snark-parties ever on the boards. A taste of Danyelle Freeman’s work:

“Even better, the homemade ravioli look like a store-bought sheet straight from a box. It’s a deceptive maneuver with criminally delicious returns: Each doughy pocket gets plumped with a vivacious mix of four cheeses and spackled with a silky lettuce sauce.”

Still, preferring the sound of laughter, however derisive, to that of steady snoring, I know I err on the side of exuberant overwriting myself. Slim agrees: “My food writing tends towards the rococo, especially when I’m trying to communicate emotions inspired by food. If you want to go beyond food reporting (‘Here’s what was served, how it looked, the ingredient list’) and give readers a flavor of the experience of pleasure in eating, it’s tough not get a little florid at times.”

Slim goes on: “The reality is that writing, not just food writing, truly is hard, even for people who ostensibly have the tools. For example, the notorious Ms. Freeman went to Harvard, wrote for the fourth-largest daily in the US, understands grammar and syntax, and has a high-SAT-score vocabulary. Nevertheless, she’s just an appalling writer, almost unreadable in her awfulness. But she’s an extreme example. The sins that offend us daily are more garden-variety: crimes against diction, thudding clichés, unnecessary neologisms. You don’t have to be Restaurant-Girl-horrendous to make us wince, eye-roll, or wish you’d done one more revision: just use hackneyed, empty phrases like ‘cooked to perfection.’”

Words, we recognize, are like anything else we humans use to communicate who we are & where we stand—gestures, clothing, hairstyles: they’re a matter of taste (in the broad sense), which means not everyone is going to like them. Hence, while we’ve been dishing for years on our own pet phrases—haters be damned!—as well as the clunkers & clichés that make us cringe, we don’t agree on everything. All part of the fun learning curve.

Here, then, is our signed manifesto/confession/defense.

Words MC Slim JB Loves

Says Slim, “I’m not offering these as Words Food Writers Should Use, just examples of Words I Love. I culled these from the sixty professional pieces I wrote this year. I sweat hard over word choice; few editorial decisions annoy me more than the substitution of an insipid, ninth-grade-reading-level word for one I painstakingly chose for its dense or allusive or narrow meaning. Saying a flavor is assaultive is not the same as calling it strong or intense.”

Describing qualities of food: toothsome (properly used to describe a certain texture, typically of pasta), luscious, velvety, zippy, lusty, miserly, parsimonious, prosaic, lyrical, zingy, bedecked, cunning, vivid, eye-goggling, acerbic, insipid, high-craft, icky-sweet

Describing a venue or its atmosphere: dumpy, seedy, ramshackle, a hog trough, boîte, hell-hole, soigné, crepuscular, dingy, gouging, a swindle, frippery, glowing, low-fuss, glossy, faux glamour, theme-parky, kitschy, hokey

Describing servers and chefs: convivial, stony, sassy, sweet-natured, cherubic, toque, seminal

Describing customers: food nerd (my coinage to replace foodie), white-bread, inky-hipster, multi-culti, philistine, nutbag, ding-dong

Intensifiers (positive): dizzying, ravishing, rough-and-ready, beguiling, righteous, serviceable, precious, gobsmacking, jaw-dropping, breathtaking

Intensifiers (negative): shameless, harrowing, appalling, sullied, dubious, benighted, fraudulent, egregious, grotesque, bastardized, grating

Slim, in reviewing this list: “Pretentious? Possibly, though I’ll defend foreign words like recherché when English doesn’t have pithy equivalents. Forcing you to consult dictionary.com? Occasionally, though I never choose a fifty-cent word when the nickel one will suffice; nobody likes a showoff. [Except me.—Denveater] Saying precisely, pungently what I mean? That’s the ultimate goal, the rationale behind every word choice.”

Words Denveater Loves

Boîte. Yeah, yeah, yeah, French throwaways are pretentious. But the English equivalent, “nightclub,” is a snooze. And where would you rather be—in the tiny, twinkling café, drinking wine & eating cheese by candlelight to the stylings of a beret-topped guitarist, that “boîte” evokes, or in the strobe-lit slaughterhouse of a “nightclub,” surrounded by screaming, stumbling, puking also-ran-tweens? Exactly.

Crispy. Slim’s right (see below); crisp does the trick. But the diminutive -y suffix is just so damn cute, taking me back to Prague circa 1998, where the bathrooms were marked Toilety

Eatery. Why this term strikes people as cutesy is beyond me—it’s really about as straightforwardly all-purpose as they come. Not every place that serves food is a café (which implies a degree of informality) or even a restaurant (Italians, at least, reserve ristorante for a high-end establishment), much less a taqueria/trattoria/tapas bar/bistro/barbecue shack/izakaya et cetera. But they’re all eateries.

Gastropub. I get the complaints, but I don’t agree with the complaints. The word was coined in the UK more than a decade ago under perfectly reasonable circumstances: to convey the fact that the word “pub” no longer needed be synonymous with “greasy grub” whose sole purpose was to absorb alcohol as quickly & unremarkably as possible. A chef-led movement toward food that was deceptively simple rather than merely honest, hearty, & every bit as delicious as the ales & ciders they accompanied was underway; that movement has turned out to be a revolution, & its stateside variant is to be applauded. Accordingly, the prefix “gastro” strikes me as sensible; those who object to it on the grounds that it reminds them of stomach ailments then must also do away with “gastronomy,” a word that dates back to 4th century Greece. The fact is, eating doesn’t begin & end with the mouth; it involves the whole digestive system. If Americans accepted that more readily—the processes and consequences of food intake—maybe we’d be in better shape.

Quaff. Okay, it’s a little goofy, but we English speakers have far too few opportunities to use the letter “q.” And the fact that its coinage dates back to 1523 speaks to its antiquated appeal: it makes me think of toddies & wassail & other such festive bygones.

Succulent. A sexy alternative to “moist” or “juicy.” Some people say you shouldn’t use $2 words when 10-cent words are available; I say those people are linguistic cheapskates. (Slim excepted.)

Unctuous. It’s true that the word has negative connotations—but only when used in its figurative sense, to mean “ingratiating.” Used in its literal sense, as a synonym for “oily” or “fatty,” it’s not unpleasant to me; in fact, unlike its synonyms, it suggests a softness or smoothness that may have to do with the fact that unction is a healing ritual. Think of it, then, as implying that butter makes you better, & slather it on!

Part 2, on Words We Hate, here

A Few Foodie Gems from Earth (The Book)

Honestly, where do Jon Stewart & The Daily Show staff find the time? Subtitled A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race, their latest tome furnishes the alien invaders who will surely arrive on our planet after we’ve wiped ourselves out with an introduction to the former human race: who we were, who we thought we were, what we did, what we didn’t do. And, of course, what we ate. Here’s hoping the below excerpts constitute fair use insofar as they’ll surely inspire you to pick up a copy of your own. You’re gonna need it, just in case you’re the last living being left & have some explaining to do.

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BY THE NUMBERS: LIFETIME FOOD CONSUMPTION

Purposeful
Ranch dressing: 285 gallons
Edible underwear: 3.2 pairs
Uncut heroin: 1/12 condom
Jesuses: 95.4 wafers

Inadvertent
Pubic hairs: 876
Pieces of own tongue: 8 lbs.
Waitstaff saliva: 4.3 gallons
Fresh vegetables: 40 lbs.

THINGS WE LIKED: TREATS

Spices
What They Were: The ground extracts of seeds, leaves, buds, twigs & stumps
Why We Liked Them: Satisfied human need to add pinches, dashes & half-teaspoons of things
What We Used Them For: Making bland food taste good; making rotten food edible; making cartoon characters sneeze
What We’d Do for Them: Cross the Gobi; circumnavigate Arica; enslave millions

Caviar
What It Was: Roe killed legally in the womb, as per Roe v. Wade
Why We Liked It: Because “they” told us we should
What We Used It For: Spreading on crackers; mocking the homeless

Honey
What It Was: Delicious, delicious bee vomit
What We Used It For: Condiment; wound disinfectant; term of endearment; Pooh-baiting
What We’d Do for It: Get stung by swarms of insects; tolerate the existence of beekeepers
Where We Found It: Honeycomb; also available in “Bit o'” form
Where You’ll (Still) Find It: Plastic squeezy-bears; any surface it once touched

THINGS SOME OF US LIKED: DELICACIES

Haggis
What It Was: A sheep’s heart, liver & lungs stuffed & boiled inside its own stomach
Why Others Found It Gross: Preferred ground pig snouts & anuses served in intestine casing on bun with ketchup

Hasma
What It Was: Frog fallopian tubes boiled in sugar water
Who Ate It: The Chinese. For dessert.
How They Came Up With It: What other female frog part were they supposed to eat? The clitoris? It’s all gristle
Suggested Beverage Pairing: Anything alcoholic, but lots of it, & beforehand

Peeps
What They Were: Hypersweetened marshmallow candies shaped like baby animals
Who Ate Them: Americans & marshmallow snakes
How They Came Up With It: Railway disaster involving Necco Wafers, plumbers’ caulk & spent fuel rods
Why Others Found It Gross: Even on the molecular level, did not contain the building blocks of food
Suggested Beverage Pairing: Key lime–flavored Mad Dog 20/20

Yes

For this to work you need a rowboat,
someone besides you
beside you, and enough rhythm to go around—

then listen to the way
of rhyming time with space
the water has. —The waves

you can hear anytime,
you can stand amid the wrack in any spray zone
and hear the waves in droves—

currente calamo
until their fluency beleaguers you so
you can’t say no to the ocean and in you go.
But for this to work

you must will the lull
upon the fury of July, will all
that is circumfluous between calamity
and the calm of incongruous June. You can come anytime
upon

a jarring setting, a glimpse thereof

like a blow to the back of the head from the one you love—
huge colors roaming the coastline in packs.
Atop the bluff, a lone hue poised to attack.
In the wild, in large groups, little blues enter

while all around your rowed, rowed boat
jellyfish wiggle like toes being washed between,
toes scrubbed clean and rubbed dry.
Then August starts kicking a hole in July and sticking

its own sky through. In this dream about following through
with the dream and not its coming true,
about bearing the brunt of the lull, the blunt object informing the skull
of sound as all hollow, there is a moment

when your most poetic virtue turns into a flotation device

and you cling to it even as it capsizes,
surrender to surrounding
rendered fluid, between,
something that deliquesces and gels,

deliquesces and gels, deliquesces and gels,

deliquesces and gels.
And then, just as seize and cease
begin to overlap, fall circling, fin visible,
September curves all the way around.

Maybe we wake up in the hull,
stretched out together like two good days in a row.
Now mist disorients the sea,
squirming, queasy. Grays yellow, greens gray.
Blue’s nowhere to be seen. So this is

the moment. Show me your tentacles. No one can see.
This is the moment no one can see
coming—when you open your mouth
and out a story oozes,
a secretion,

based on the life of a skirmish
between green and blue,
a jellyfish emergent in the telling.
Show me your myriad self—

more lesson, less moral.
Make me a verb out of coral. Make me a noun that’s still forming
and will still be forming, foaming at the mouth.
Make me an adjective crawling, lone,

from the adjectival wreckage , black.

I’ll learn it all by rote, then not. I’ll recall as the boat lists
coveward now, now toward the spreading center, oars long gone.
Is the sea listening? It says so.

Wine Poem 4

Perhaps happens. All it is could be.
Another word for it would be—
maybe it’ll come to me—
Granted shape is just a phase. Granted form—
goblet, tumbler, bottle in the dark,
amarone and a body
clad in black—just comes between
to and from, from and to, abstract to
the touch, concrete as thought.
So it seems in light of these say
libations—in the light,
bare flicker, slight gyre
of their bilabials one icy eve.
Grape, grape, barbaresco, primitivo,
after such
anticipation the first sip nearly hurts,
a little bit, a touch,
like on certain liquids you could cut your lip,
the way of fluid having after all an edge

When the wine winds down,
nearly is nearby, the word is not to be.
I want everything, nothing included.

***

Brown-butter bread pudding with mulberries and milk jam
sounds like sculpture.
The heart is its own brain.
The heart pauses, then hesitates.
Something’s on the tip
of the heart’s tongue, the heart taps
fist to brow to jar
memory into place. Perhaps
it’s a name, the name is not Claude Muchmore, it is not
Javier Flores, it cannot be
Soso Kokynos, maybe it’s a place
near Verona, in the Rockies, on the edge of elsewhere.
The heart smarts
like a shin smacked yet again
on the leg of the couch, not a sofa,
not a settee or divan,
in the same spot,
damning itself
for its willed inattention to the world,
its faux velleity, so, so faux—
The heart thinks, I’ve heard this song
for twenty-something years,
the heart knows the lyrics by heart
(one night in Iowa, he and I in a borrowed car)—
The heart has hips and sways. The heart has lips and applies
its own pressure, its own logic, its own balm.
The heart acknowledges the dichotomy
between mind and body mind and body
fail to acknowledge
and in the moment
of so doing wrinkles and shrinks
to the size of a raisin, golden.
Thinking things is coming to not terms but blows.

Wine Poem 3 (Florence/Vernazza 1999)

The day to be the sun was the one Michelangelo made a snowman on
as the icicle’s hourglass ran out

from each branch of each tree on the grounds of the castle de Medici,
all day long the day falling

somewhere along a spectrum running
from cycle to continuum

—circle slipping into loop, loop
losing grip on curve, loosening the grasp, curve lapsing

into line, line going off on tangent
marked at points now and never by sparkling,

coordinates glacial and palatial,
shape and phase, monument and monument to the demise

thereof, from moment to moment losing momentum
—sun-motes sticking to vision like burrs.

Memo to self: become someone soon. A downpour
has left this view drying in its wake, view like a film on the surface of surrounding,

a beaded layer over it that is it—
the midst of a vineyard via a trail

as one by one the grapes drip from their leafy faucets,
the taps leak splashing green and black,

and one by one the grapes light up like rafter-strung bulbs,
or room after room as the sun sets,

and one by one the grapes come out and shine like pulp from a star.
Was it sweet of you to come?

If you were dead, the sky would hang
like a jade burial shroud sewn with gold threads,

but it’s hung like a shade rolled up to let in breezes of light.
So let’s vow, marry, wed. This view is a window

of time in which to act for act’s sake,
we who are drawn here together like drapery,

folds in woven duration,
folds in dusk’s bolt, drawn here

following the sun like two exclamation points in a row.
How the emphasis would taper off were you to go.

The day to be time passing
would be the one some unsung Impressionist whiled

away tracing the shape of a cloud on,
but in lieu of your death or dying

time less ceases to exist than it exists to cease,
and when the young Ludwig Miës van der Rohe was out building sandcastles,

those were the days to be the surf—
getting your rivulets all tangled up in seaweed

to wriggle out of the sea’s bruising squeezes, mottling your gilded strands and tassels to be the moat’s fulfillment and ruin,

and they’d have been the days to sneak onto wine turf and throttle yourself
with a vine, knot the noose with the grapes twinkling

like dots of pure green exclamation point all around you,
dangling a modifier with this ring before them—

These are the grapes that make sciacchetra
slant-rhyme with rocketry. It tastes like juice wrung from a star.

It sparkles like the coercion of space into spaces,
like the visible on the wane that the clear may wax.

Somewhere between the pivotal act of your life or living
and its riveting consequences, along the way

ad astra per aspera,

there must have been a night to be the rain,
a means of siphoning the energy of Sisyphus

off from the myth of inertia
as it snowballed from rock fact

to refuel belief in impetus. A way to confirm.
But the day to be a scorcher has to coincide

with the wedding on the palace lawn
in a pavilion lined with ice sculptures of the pantheon

and must subside in thunderstorm
with the gods of wine making pools

of themselves, fools for self-reflection as they melt down
into figures entering the centrifuge—

as what, rotating, separates—

Let’s pledge our devotion to perpetual motion,
let’s be the betrothed becoming otherwise,

lightning-struck,
composing toasts and going into shock—