Posted by Rob Eshman
In 1984 I moved to Israel and lived there for two years. One of the first people I met was an aspiring journalist named Ilana DeBare. We worked on stories, met some of the same mildly shady Old City characters, hung out, and then eventually Ilana went back to the States for J school. She worked for the Sacramento Bee, published a terrific book on founding a private school of girls— Where Girls Come First: The Rise, Fall and Surprising Revival of Girls’ Schools (Tarcher/Penguin 2004)—and now is pursuing the dream of being of novelist. She’s also blogging.
Our paths crossed again this week when Ilana sent me a link to a very thorough blog post she did on a conference held by Berkeley, CA’s Saul’s Deli that featured Michael Pollan and others discussing the idea of a sustainable, ethical deli. I’ll excerpt a chunk here, but click through to read the whole thing. Nice to hear from Ilana again… we once shared a lot of hummuses together at Lina‘s, now we’re virtually eating again:
Jews! Food! Ecopolitics! or, how to green a Jewish deli
By Ilana DeBare
Did Saul’s Deli just fire the matzah ball heard ‘round the world?
The Berkeley eatery hosted a panel discussion Tuesday night on Sustainability and the Jewish Deli, featuring foodie superstar Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma), green business consultant Gil Friend, and urban farmer Willow Rosenthal, along with deli owners Karen Adelman and Peter Levitt.
And since this is the Bay Area – where people love to opine about the politics of food as much as they like to eat it – they drew a sold-out crowd of 250 people at $10 a pop.
Saul’s owners have had two missions for a long time – the official one of operating a traditional Jewish deli with all the comfort foods that American Jews know and love, and a second stealth mission of trying to “green” their business and serve food produced in a environmentally-friendly and humane manner.
They’d done a lot of the easy stuff over the past decade, such as switching to Niman Ranch and Marin Sun Farms beef, replacing industrially-produced rye bread with locally-baked Acme rye, and purchasing organic or local produce.
More recently they started taking on the harder stuff – the stuff likely to cause patrons to yell “shonda.” They stopped carrying Dr. Brown’s soda and replaced it with their own house-made celery tonic. They limited borscht to the summer months when beets are in season. They stopped carrying salami, since they couldn’t find Jewish-style salami that was sourced from grass-fed beef.
And they started tinkering with the sizes of their sandwiches, figuring the planet really does not need people trying to wrap their jaws around 10 or 12 ounces of pastrami.
Traditional corned beef sandwich from Carnegie Deli
(Or more! The Carnegie Deli in New York sells a $17.95 corned beef and pastrami sandwich that contains 1.5 pounds of meat.)
“We felt a need to communicate (with our community) around the time when using local pickles tipped the cost of a sandwich past $10,” said co-owner Adelman, explaining the genesis of the event. “We needed permission to drag Jewish deli cuisine out of the museum.”
As a deli, Saul’s faces some challenges in trying to “green” itself that a more upscale fine-dining type restaurant wouldn’t:
Organic and artisanal foods often cost more than mass-produced versions. Will deli patrons – looking for a casual meal, not a $40 white-tablecloth dinner – be willing to pay slightly more for sustainability?
Delis like Saul’s are selling memory as much as anything else. How will customers seeking beloved foods from their childhood respond to changes in the menu?
Eating less meat is a key environmental goal. That means smaller portions. Yet a lot of Jewish culture around meals is based on providing a surfeit of food – eat, bubelah, eat! – as a way to show love and economic well-being.
At first glance, trying to green a deli like Saul’s might seem to present a black-versus-white clash of warm ancestral traditions against rigid political correctness.
But in fact, the history and economics of delis are more complicated than that.
Saul’s owners said they lose money with every traditional pastrami sandwich they sell, due to the huge meat portions that customers expect at a low price.
“People pay only $10 for the same amount of meat that would cost $30 or $40 if they bought it as a steak,” Levitt said. “But it’s harder to put on the table than a steak, and they don’t buy wine with it…. The more pastrami sandwiches we serve, the worse our business does.”
So smaller portions are not only more sustainable environmentally: They would help the deli sustain itself as a business.
And the giant portions that we associate with places like the Carnegie Deli are in fact a relatively recent twist in Jewish deli history.
“These foot-high sandwiches are from the post-World War II era,” said Friend. “So this is not about the deli. It’s about post-war America. My dad grew up eating in New York delis in the 20s and 30s, and this is not what they had.”
In fact, there is another deli tradition that precedes the large portions and huge menus – and that is a tradition, based in eastern European poverty, of eking meals out of the smallest and most obscure pieces of meat.
Chicken soup was an effort to get second and third meals out of an already-eaten chicken. And long before stuffed kishkas became frozen, factory-produced entrees involving sausage skins, they were a meal made by stuffing flour and chicken fat into the leftover neck skin of a goose.
“There are two traditions,” Pollan said. “One is the post-war Cadillac sandwich, but then there’s the earlier tradition of using every part of the bird.”
Levitt and Adelman said that the biggest change they hope to make is to narrow their menu from four pages to two, focusing on ingredients that are locally in season.
Read the rest here.
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February 7, 2010 | 3:22 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
You’re having a long contentious day. At the end of it, you need to relax, regroup, grab some perspective, get in touch with your other Inner Self, the one that’s not angsty, nerve-wracked and short-fused. Do you:
a) go to church/shul/mosque/Wiccan altar to pray
c) go to a good restaurant
The answer for the vast majority of people would be “c.” And yet somehow we think of a and b as “religious” experiences while “c” is just going out to eat.
Food does what they do, for sure.
Last night—after one of those days—my wife and daughter and I drove a few blocks to try out the new Pitfire Pizza in Culver City on Washington Blvd.
Forget the name that makes it sounds like an Italian-Kansas City concept restaurant. This place has exceptional food, wine and hospitality.
But first I need to mention one important fact: it was free.
That’s right. The three of us decided to try out the new place, and when we got there a handwritten sign on the door read, “Closed for Private Party. Open Tomorrow 12 pm.”
My wife—from Brooklyn—walked in anyway. The host greetd her and explained that this was a pre-opening night try-out for friends and family.
“Well,” my wife said, a big friendly smile on her face, “we’re from the neighborhood.”
“Then come in!” The host smiled back. “Welcome.”
The place was packed, with friends, family…and us.
A large open kitchen, walls of windows onto the street, exposed beams. What pulls focus on the large room is a wood-fired oven, sheathed in a bright red cylinder, stoked inside with flaming logs.
The menu is a shock. You expect California Pizza Kitchen and you get Pizzeria Mozza, Oliveto, AOC—at CPK prices. Farmer’s Market Roasted Vegetables with whipped ricotta; Burrata Pizza with Arugula; Field Mushroom Pizza with Crème Fraiche & Fontina; Tuna Lucca Panini with marinated tuna, eggs and capers.
I ordered some of this and that, along with homemade sangria and a Watermelon Lemonade, whipped out the credit card, and the cashier said, “It’s all on the house tonight.”
But here’s how good it was: I ate at Pizzeria Mozza last week and the pizza at Pitfire was more satisfying. The tuna Panini was simply better. It was all so good I would have paid for it—and I would have paid almost half of what the same meal costs at Mozza. That doesn’t speak to Mozza’s value—it is excellent—but to Pitfire’s ambitions. Mozza has its butterscotch budino, one of my favorite desserts in LA. Pitfire could settle for tepid tiramisu, but instead offers organic soft-serve Straus Dairy ice cream with homemade caramel sauce and Malden Sea Salt.
I’d been to the Pitfire downtown on 2nd street, but this one is a step up in décor, spaciousness, and menu. What happened? I found out in The Los Angeles Times:
If you’re a fan of Pitfire Pizza’s BBQ chicken salad or their mac ‘n cheese, you should hurry and place an order before April 2. The local mini-chain with outposts in North Hollywood, downtown L.A. and Westwood (which recently acquired a beer and wine license), is changing its menu this Thursday and will eliminate both of those popular dishes. Pitfire is also getting rid of the Baked Ziti, Fiery Chicken Soup, Dixie Chicken Penne, Papardelle Pasta, Pumpkin Pizza, Folded Sausage Pizza and Folded Chicken Pizza. (The folded pizza is their approximation of a calzone.)
They’ll be replaced by approximately 15 new dishes created by chef/owners David Sanfield and Paul Hibler along with executive chef Mark Gold of Café Pinot and the Water Grill. (Gold earned three stars from Times Restaurant Critic S. Irene Virbila when he cooked at Leatherby’s Café Rouge in Costa Mesa.) The new dishes include the signature chicken salad ($9.75) featuring sous vide chicken on a bed of baby arugula topped by toasted pine nuts, pickled currants, shaved scallions and hand-torn bread crumbs tossed in a champagne vinaigrette; clam and bacon linguine featuring littleneck clams and Zoe nitrate-free bacon in a tomato broth. And a new mushroom pizza ($9.95)—with more whole mushrooms—will replace the old version, which had shaved mushrooms.
This was a gutsy move. No Caesar Salad! No BBQ Chicken Pizza! The menu takes locavore/gastropub/organic and injects it into a mainstream fast-casual dining format. Plus good wines, beers and welcoming service—then again, we are “friends and family.”
The highlights were the burrata pizza, creamy burrata cooled with a mound of fresh arugula atop a nicely wood-charred crust; and the Roasted Vegetables, which were simply ideal: tender brussel sprouts, cauliflower, rapini, finger potatoes, onions and fennel, all roasted separately and laid out in wide platters as on a Venetian bar, then scooped out and served together on a plate with a dab of whipped ricotta and grilled bread. That is breakfast, lunch and dinner. I want it again now.
You can take your wounded soul to church or shul. For me Pitfire was a spiritual pitstop, I left utterly rejuvenated, satiated, content.
(I’ll have pictures up tomorrow)
Pitfire Pizza Culver City
24 Washington Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90066
For map click here.
February 4, 2010 | 5:24 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
There are two types of restaurants in the world: authentic and inauthentic. Right now I’m sitting at one that’s right on the fence, and can go either way.
I’ve been going to Surfas for 20 years. I liked it better when it was a jumble of kitchen supplies and eclectic gourmet items in a stuffed warehouse on National. When it moved to its new spacious Williams-Sonoma-esque location around the corner on Washington Blvd., the selection improved, the prices rose slightly, and the whole experience began to fall off.
A café adjacent to the store is bright and honey. The menu has all the right words: Nuetske this and organic that. 72 layer biscuits with imported raspberry jam. Cinamon canelles. It’s got the menu. It’s got the look. But it lacks.
Hard to put my finger on it, but it’s something missing Cafe surfas as there is from a lot of restaurants. The servers lack a certain engagement. The kitchen turns out food from the fridge, not the heart. Customers chew decent food like feeding ruminants. The atmosphere is transactional, unspontaneous. The place is organized but uninspired. Every one does their job. It’s like a boring day in shul: Mouthing the prayers, unmoved by the spirit.
What results can never be great, and is often just plain not good.
I ordered the fried egg sandwich: two pieces of fresh whole grain peasant bread, mayo, tomato, white cheddar and a fried egg. A high-end self-conscious foodie gourmet café should be able to pull that off, right?
What I ended up tasting, then picking at, then putting aside, was a greasy little sandwich with a strange non-food flavor. Hmm. Grill grit? Rancid oil? Grill cleaner and burned butter? Inside the cheese sweated grease. The toasted bread was slathered with mayonnaise. The egg picked up and dispersed more of that mystery taste. I didn’t bother biting into the yolk. I calculate calories in a dish by how much tennis I’d have to play to work it off. I’d have to go five full sets and a tiebreaker with Federer to burn through the goo in this concoction.
So what are the signs of the authentic café? Here’s what’s bizarre: they are same three signs of an authentic religious experience.
I’m not talking about a peak religious experience, what William James described as transcendence, a sense of the ineffable, a dramatic change in one’s life. I mean, it’s a fried a egg sandwich. I’m talking about an authentic moment, when you’re trying, and focused, and open—it may lead to a peak experience, to transcendence, but it’s no guarantee. For that I think you need three things:
First, commitment. It starts above all with the owner. The person who cares, who loves food and feeding people, is there and enthusiastic and inspiring, or at least has created a felt presence. Surfas in general feels like no one’s in charge, the café even more so. Slackness, diffidence, a kind of friendly resignation to mediocrity.
Then, intention. That’s where the kitchen comes in. You can train anyone to copy a recipe, but you can’t teach them to do it with love, intention, what the masters of Hebrew prayer call kavanah. The food you serve is feeding a body that feeds a soul that creates the world. Don’t just throw it together and throw it on a plate.
Finally, openness. That’s the customer. Are you open to having your world rocked, your taste buds jazzed, your heart racing? Are you just there to eat food, or to taste it, to enjoy it, to experience it. I have to say, when it comes to dining out, I’m almost alays open. My wife rabbi would confirm I’m a lot more open to authentic experience in a restaurant then I am, bitching and moaning, in shul.
And when it comes to Surfas, I’m still open. They are one good manager away from being a good, and true, and authentic cafe.
In the meantime, I’ll just make shakshuka at home.
January 29, 2010 | 8:18 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
They say we are all children of the same God, but it’s clear we don’t act like it. For centuries we’ve slaughtered one another in the name of God. We’ve enslaved, oppressed, reviled and ridiculed our fellow men and women because their god just looked at us funny. I belong to a People who, because we chose not to believe in somebody else’s idea of God, suffered 2000 years of mayhem at the hands of true believers. I’m over it—sort of—but a quick glance in any history book makes me wary of those that say the path of human unity is through the Divine.
No, God often divides us. Food unites us.
If you want to see people argue, get them talking about each other’s God. If you want to see them laugh and talk, get them eating each other’s food.
At the dinner table, you can even talk about God, or politics, or Zionism and terrorism—doesn’t matter. The best food can soften the most bitter disputes.
I saw this with my own eyes for the first time in 1984 in a kitchen in East Jerusalem. I was living in West Jerusalem at the time, the Jewish half of the, um, united city. East Jerusalem was the exclusively Arab half of the, um, united city. The Israeli Jews I had befriended warned me against venturing there. They themselves stayed away, and not without reason. The news often carried reports of Jews being attacked in the streets of the Old City. The week I arrived in Israel, an American studying in a Yeshiva wandered into one of the many confusing alleyways of the Arab Quarter and was set upon and stabbed. He died from his wounds—he was my age.
But the Old City lured me time and again. West Jerusalem was lively and imbued with culture and art. But East Jerusalem was exotic, the Jerusalem of the photograveures, and, let’s face it, that’s where the great food was.
My Israeli girlfriend turned me on to the hummus at Lina and I couldn’t help myself. If there was an uptick in attacks I’d take precautions—slide myself in with a Christian tour group, where a Roots sweatshirt—assuming every terrorist knows the company is Canadian and therefore, officially, neutral. But the one thing I couldn’t do was deny myself the best food in the city where I lived.
On one of my trips to Lina’s I met Bilal.
I had come out of the Old City via the Damascus Gate when we spotted each other. He was a Palestinian man around my age, sitting on a bottom step and reading National Geographic. Damascus Gate was below street level, so the hordes of tourists and residents who entered it had to descend a series of steps to enter. The Arab women dressed from toe to head in robes and dresses. The American and European women, especially the young ladies, pranced down in the light skirts they wore to beat the Jerusalem heat.
Sitting at the bottom of the steps and looking up, Bilal and his friends showed me, was better than National Georgraphic.
So we bonded over girls, and ended up talking about Israel, the Palestinians, history, America, movies—he was my first Palestinian, and I was his first American. A few weeks after we met, he invited me to his home for lunch.
The house was an apartment in East Jerusalem, with a nice sized living room and much smaller rooms surrounding it. In the kitchen his mother was busy chopping tomatoes an cucumbers for salad.
The kitchen was the size of a broom closet. There was a small counter, and next to it a kerosene stove, the kind the Israeli pioneers used. On top she had a covered tin contraption in which she was baking her cake: that was her oven.
Bilal wanted me to sit with him in the living room, where the guests were received, but I had to watch his mother cook. Here she lived, in a kitchen smaller than a Wolf range, turning out meal after meal for friends and family. She cut vegetables in her hands, using a small serrated knife with a lime green plastic handle. She was right-handed. Her left hand was the cutting board.
Bilal translated. She explained that the white power she used in her humus was lemon salt. I noticed Lina’s used it too. She rubbed her okra with salt to remove the slime. Her tabouli was exceptional. Until that afternoon, I only knew tabouli as the stuff of college vegetarian menus, gloppy mounds of soaked cracked wheat studded with flavorless bits of parsley and tomato. Bilal’s mother explained that tabouli was supposed to be parsley and mint, with justr a sprinkle of bulger. It made sense: what I’d been eating before was just cold breakfast cereal with vegetables.
We sat down to a meal of hummus, eggplant, an okra and meat stew and a semolina cake.
I’d see Bilal and his friend Khalil often over the next three years. There were some intense parties in secret caravansary rooms off those same forbidden alleyways, there was the time Bilal knocked on my door and asked to use my apartment to entertain his girlfriend—a religious Jewish woman. There were the lunches at Lina and the night Bilal introduced me to the world of Ramadan desserts, late night pancakes soaked in sugar syrup, and warm cheese kunafee under a layer of syrup-drenched shreded filo. , And there was my last meeting with Khalil, when he told me Bilal had been arrested in the first intifada, and who knew what would happen.
Who knew? After that I lost touch with both men. We had fun, we had food, and then God got in the way.
This is the tabouli Farah taught me to make. It is not the gloppy wheaty stuff of natural food stores (are you listening Whole Foods?). It is really more of a parsley salad with some bulgher added for texture.
2 bunches Italian parsley
1 bunch mint
½ c. bulgher wheat
1/2 c. boiling water
¼ c. olive oil
2 lemons, juiced
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cucumber, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
salt and pepper
Rinse bulger and drain. Pour boiling water over bulger and let sit 20 minutes. . Soak in cold water overnight. Drain. Wash parsley and mint well. Chop fine. In bowl mix all the ingredients together. Adjust for seasoining. Serve cool or room temperature.
January 28, 2010 | 8:53 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
What am I?
Isn’t that the question any religion worth its holy water forces its believers to confront.
Food begs the question too. As Michael Pollan pointed out, we can eat anything, so we must decide what to eat. In that decision we are deciding not just what our relationship is to the planet, to animals, to our fellow humans.
But I would go farther, deciding what we eat is deciding in a deep way who we are. What do I believe, and how willing am I to act on those beliefs? Who else am I like? What kind of life do I want to lead?
These are the questions wrapped up in the religious search, but you can skip the prayer and rabbis and priests and gurus and just confront them on your plate. We don’t ask other, “What do you eat?” We ask, “What are you? Are you a vegetarian? Are you a pescatarian?” It’s not enough to describe what foods we will and will not eat, we strive to find a word for it. Locavore. Carnivore. Gastrosexual. Our desire to give our bundle of food preferences a single name reveals our inate sense that we are what we eat, and we are what we don’t eat.
So who am I?
Today I had lunch with Tori Avey, the insightful woman behind a new blog called Shiksa Goddess. We ate at Afshan, a kosher Persian restaurant in the fashion district. Afshan’s traditional menu is all Persian (except for an inexplicable listing for “Buffalo Wings.” Do they even have buffalo in Iran?) It’s a hole in the wall, low on decoration yet oddly high on charm, the kind of place that’s chock a block in New York’s garment district, where each enthic denizen has its own commissary. For nine bucks I got chicken koubideh (ground spiced grilled chicken), rice with sour cherries, grilled tomato, two kinds of salad.
Tori and I fell into talking about what we are… vegetarian, etc. In the end I came up with a word to descrivbe someone who won’t say no to tasting anything, our of a love for good food and adesire to connect with the people who eat it—but who doesn’t make a habit of eating things he finds morally or religiously objectionable.
“What would I call myself?” I asked. “I guess I’m a tryatarian. I’ll try anything once.”
January 27, 2010 | 9:32 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Here’s an event worth attending—hopefully we’ll be able to get a reporter to cover it.
On Feb. 9, a group of leading food writers and activists will convene at Saul’s Deli in Berkeley, CA to discuss the future of the Jewish deli in light of growing consciousness about the sources of our food.
The questions before them, according to a press release, are:
What does sustainability mean for the future of Deli cuisine and culture?
Local, organic VS. industrial systems, externalized costs of cheap food and . . . collective memory and food traditions?
Even “authentic” cuisine can obstruct progress towards more just, sustainable food. How does a business committed to being part of the solution persuade traditionalist customers of the importance of change?
For example, towering pastrami sandwiches once signified success, security and abundance, an immigrant’s celebration of the American Dream. But given the realities of meat production in America today – 99% is factory farmed – how can we continue to stand by this as an icon? What taste memories and flavors of The Deli have been provided by an industrial food system?
How can we look at our nostalgia critically? How might we evolve a shared cuisine together and how can we bring our people along with us - away from grieving the disappearing deli, into the conversation and into the future?
The panelists are Michael Pollan, Journalist, Author, modern day foodie Moses (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food), Gil Friend, CEO of Natural Logic, Author: The Truth About Green Business, Willow Rosenthal, Founder, City Slicker Farms, Karen Adelman and Peter Levitt, Co-Owners, Saul’s Restaurant and Deli.
It will be moderated by LA’s own Evan Kleiman, Host of KCRW’s Good Food, whose restaurant Angeli Caffe used to make the best carciofi alla giudia in town (Attention Mark Peel: the ones you make at your new The Tar Pit don’t cut it… heavy and greasy, an Iowa state fair version of a Jewish Italian classic. You’re supposed to separate the leaves. Call Evan. Call Joan Nathan. Go back to La Taverna del Ghetto and learn at the feet of the masters).
If any readers plan on being there, please let me know.
Here’s the particulars:
Feb 9, 6:00 PM
Tickets $10 in advance, $15 at the door
Proceeds benefit The Center for Ecoliteracy
**Kitchen will be closed, regular menu not available from 4 pm on**
At Saul’s Restaurant and Deli
1475 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94709
January 26, 2010 | 7:14 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Barbara Kingsolver thinks Jonathan Safan Foer is an idiot.
She doesn’t say it, at least not directly, but that’s the inevitable takeaway from first reading her bestseller, “Animal Vegetable Miracle,” then reading his, “Eating Animals.”
Read them back to back and you’ll be ping-ponged between two strong moral voices who come to very different conclusions about one of the biggest dilemmas we omnivores face: should we eat meat?
They both have a wide and substantial area of agreement. Both lay out the case against the modern factory farm. In this they repeat or reiterate a lot of the facts marshaled by Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, but, hey, keep screaming until people listen, I suppose.
But Safran Foer (or is it just Foer?—I’ll call him JSF) goes further than Kingsolver in exploring the basic question of not what kind of meat we should eat, but whether we should eat it at all. He thinks not. He drives home the point that eating any animal is no different than eating any other animal. Eating a chicken is like eating your family dog.
“What justification might I have for sparing dogs but eating other animals?” he asks—rhetorically. JSF lays out the case that any distinction is immoral. That cow pain is dog pain is salmon pain is human pain.
Kingsolver’s book revolves around the first year she and her family moved to Virginia and became devout locavores, eating only what they grew and raised and other foods from within a 200 mile radius. The idea was not just to explore all the food issues Pollan, et. al, have raised, but to learn by doing, to understand what a commitment to local, sustainable food really means, and if it’s a replicable, rational choice for an American family.
In the course of doing that, Kingsolver lambastes those who believe we’re doing farm animals a favor by NOT eating them. Here’s what she argues:
“I find myself fundamentally aligned with a vegetarian position in every way except one: however selectively, I eat meat. I’m unimpressed by arguments that condemn animal harvest while ignoring, wholesale, the animal killing that underwrites vegetal foods. Unaccountable deaths by pesticide and habitat removal—the beetles and bunnies that die collaterally for our bread and veggie burgers—are lives plumb wasted….
…“We raise these creatures for a reason.” *What, to kill them? It seems that sensitivity and compassion to animals is lacking in this comment.
“To envision a vegan version of civilization, start by erasing from all time the Three Little Pigs, the boy who cried wolf, Charlotte’s Web, the golden calf, Tess of the d’Urbervilles…
“Recently while I was cooking eggs, my kids sat at the kitchen table entertaining me with readings from a magazine profile of a famous, rather young vegan movie star….What a life’s work for that poor gal: traipsing about the farm in her strappy heels, weaving among the cow flops, bending gracefully to pick up eggs and stick them in an incubator where they would maddeningly hatch, and grow bent on laying more eggs. It’s dirty work, trying to save an endless chain of uneaten lives. Realisticially, my kids observed, she’d hire somebody.”
“My animals all had a good life, with death as its natural end. It’s not without thought and gratitude that I slaughter my own animals, it is a hard thing to do. It’s taken me time to be able to eat my own lambs that I had played with.”
I don’t know what starlet Kingsolver is referring to, but she sweeps up JSF in the argument as well.
“It’s just the high-mindedness that rankles,” she concludes. “When moral superiority combines with billowing ignorance, they fill up a hot air balloon that’s awfully hard not to poke. The farm-liberation fantasy simply reflects a modern cultural confusion about farm animals. They’re human property, not just legally but biologically. Over the millennia of our clever history, we created from wild progenitors whole new classes of beasts whose sole purpose was to feed us.”
This is the meat—okay, sorry—of Kingsolver’s argument, and it’s easy to find long passages of it quoted about the Net. Meat eaters find succor in it, vegans fuel for flames.
Am I sorry to see the good guys fighting? No—true belief breeds conflict. Even those who agree on the power of food to change our lives and our world can disagree on exactly how to put that power into practice.
Eating animals at all versus eating only ethically raised and slaughtered ones is probably a permanent and lasting schism among Foodaists. Is it two different camps of the same religion, or is it Christians and Jews, two wholly different points of view on a fundamental matter of faith? Probably the former. Some will agree to disagree, some will continue to slug it out, some will join forces for the larger good, and some will snipe behind the others’ backs— Goofballs! Murderers! In Foodaism, you aren’t what you eat, you are what you don’t eat.
As for me, my head says Kingsolver, but my heart says Foer. I look at my goat and think—dog. I look at my chicken and think—dinner. And if I am in Greece say, and I catch of whiff of goat roasted on a spit over oak logs and grape cuttings, brushed with rosemary branches, served in crisp-tinged slices with a glass of Kretikos? Then I’m with Kingsolver too. I admit it: my higher moral calling can be too easily derailed by a good cook and a glass of wine. Or by some good gribenes.
A lot of us try to split the difference by sticking to fish (wild, sustainable, not farmed raised, etc etc). I know JSF thinks eating Alaskan cod is like chewing on a chihuahua, but as powerful a writer as he is, I just can’t follow him there. And even if he did, I’d be lured away by the smell that blooms from these packets when you cut them open, as I did last night at the dinner table:
Alaskan Cod en Papillote with Fennel Mustard Sauce
1 3/4 pounds cod, halibut or other great fish fillet
2 cups TOTAL finely diced tomato, carrot, celery, fennel, onion in equal proportions PLUS 1 T. minced fresh parsley and thyme
4 bay leaves
4 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
2 cups white wine
2 T butter
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 T. dijon mustard
3 T. minced fennel fronds
Preheat oven to 450. Cut four large parchment paper circles. Place one fish filet on each circle, top with bay leaf, 1/4 of the vegetable/herb mix, salt and pepper, 1 T. olive oil and a long drizzle of wine. Fold circle shut and crimp edges to seal.
Place on baking sheet and bake in hot oven about 15-20 minutes.
While fish is cooking, boil remaining wine with garlic until reduced top 1/2 cup. Remove from flame, remove garlic. Whisk in butter and mustard until emulsified. Stir in fronds and add salt and pepper.
To serve, put a pouch on each plate, slit open and spread paper apart, pour sauce over fish.
January 26, 2010 | 2:51 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Here’s my Jan. 24 column in The Jewish Journal, “The Joy of Skin” plus a great How To video made by none other than Adi Eshman…..
Whatever happened to gribenes?
I still make them every time I roast a chicken or make chicken soup; couldn’t be more simple.
Gribenes are the golden brown, curled up bits of chicken skin made by rendering the fat, or schmaltz. They are the Jewish equivalent of pork cracklings. The French and Chinese make them from duck. A good gribene is both dry and fatty, crispy and chewy. The word in Yiddish means “scrap.” It’s much better than it sounds.
I make them at home every time I roast a chicken or make chicken soup. I serve them tossed about in a small bowl with onions fried just as crisp in the same schmaltz. Sometimes I toss them in a green salad, the way the French do with theirs. And once in a while I set them on a plate beside thin shot glasses of frozen vodka. These I call Gribenes Shooters.
Outside my kitchen, I don’t come across gribenes.
I know in New York City, the Second Avenue Deli will put a little dish of them on your table when you sit down. Sammy’s Roumanian off Delancy Street does the same, along with a saucer of chicken fat to spread on your rye bread.
But gribenes in a restaurant or deli relegates them to nostalgia, which is a big mistake. Gribenes deserve a place in the home. They taste good. They make good use of excess skin and fat that you’d otherwise toss. And, most importantly, they make people happy.
For some, gribenes instantly recall grandparents. It was my mother’s mother, Bertha Vogel, who taught me to make them. She made and served them whenever she made Friday night dinner. She ate fried chicken skin every week and drank a glass of bourbon every evening. She died in her sleep at age 96.
But even people without a gribenes-eating Jewish grandparent get a kick out of them. They hint at newly hip animal parts like trotters, head cheese and jowls, yet are hardly exotic: people who eat chicken tend to like the crunchy skin the best, anyway. Gribenes just distill that pleasure to its bite-sized essence. I have yet to put out a plate to anything but smiles. Gribenes make people inevitably, assuredly happy. Is that why we’ve stopped eating them?
More likely, gribenes fell out of fashion because of health concerns. In the age of Lipitor and white meat, deliberately tossing back fried chicken skin may seem like the equivalent of a death wish. A friend of mine calls gribenes “chicken crack” — both addictive and dangerous.
My answer is: don’t eat too much. Save them for Shabbat, a special meal; they’re not movie popcorn (which, by the way, is no health picnic either).
Meanwhile, I choose to believe that something that brings people such momentary joy and pleasure cannot do much harm. Especially when chased by a shot of vodka.
Gribenes and Onions
There’s no point in going into proportions here. When you trim a chicken before roasting or stewing, save the excess skin and fat. Two roasting chickens will give you enough for a small dish of gribenes. Plan accordingly.
Chicken with fat attached
Onions, halved and sliced thin
Cut large pieces of skin into smaller pieces, around 1 or 2 inches.
Heat a skillet and add all the chicken skin and fat. Cook over low to moderate heat until the fat is rendered from the skin and the skin begins to turn golden brown.
Toward the end of the cooking, turn down the heat to avoid burning and watch carefully. When the bits of skin are the color of an autumn leaf, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to drain.
Add enough thinly sliced onion to cover bottom of pan but still stay submerged in the schmaltz. Fry over moderate heat until very crispy and brown. Drain separately on paper towels.
Just before serving, toss gribenes with onion in a small dish, sprinkle with salt, and serve.
How to Make Gribenes [VIDEO]