Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: Finger Sandwiches. From Hell.

fingersandwiches02Mothers Day brunch 2014.
Lovely and delicious and a HUGE fucking pain in the ass.

It has become family tradition on Mothers Day for Your Humble Monarch™ to make finger sandwiches for her mom, sister and nieces—and now, for her Amazing Lover™’s mom, too.

Don’t ask me how this shit got started. It’s not that I don’t know, it’s that I really don’t want to talk about it. Suffice it to say that rather than take everyone out to brunch one year on Mothers Day, I decided I’d try my hand at finger sandwiches this one time, and, well, everyone loooooved them and now it’s A Big Fucking Thing. Relatively speaking, though, I’ll take making finger sandwiches for the moms in my life once a year over, say, bearing and raising actual children. Jeezus.

Yes, they are quite delicious and truly lovely. But beyond that, there is absolutely nothing to recommend finger sandwiches whatsoever. The process of making them is ridiculously time consuming, and that’s to say nothing of the work of gathering the ingredients in advance. They are also expensive, particularly if you’re an unrepentant food snob like I am and just have to use only the best quality ingredients one can find. They are neither vegan nor vegetarian, nor gluten free, nor dairy free, nor salt free—in fact, anyone eating them is practically begging for an instantaneous cardiac arrest. Furthermore, making these little fuckers unleashes an ungodly mess, transforming your once-tidy kitchen into what looks like the scene of several simultaneous biblical plagues (plagues, by the way, which you will have neither the time nor the energy left over to clean up). But in my opinion, the very worst sin of the finger sandwich, by far, is the enormous amount of food wasted: we are talking waaaay beyond mere decadence here, and into the realm of unforgivable evil.* So let’s get started, shall we?

First, one must decide on the sandwiches. There are plenty of books and online resources for amazing finger sandwich recipes, and I definitely don’t want to discourage you from exploring them. But I’m really more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-hey-I-wonder-if-pepperoni-and-cream-cheese-would-make-a-good-finger-sandwich-OMG-yum! kinda gal, so I’ll just take you through this year’s menu:

  • pepperoni & cream cheese on semolina, roasted red pepper garnish
  • cranberry almond chicken salad on raisin pecan bread, cranberry garnish
  • egg salad on potato bread, parsley garnish
  • ham & brie with apples on rye, parsley garnish
  • pickled tuna salad on whole wheat, parsley garnish
  • cucumber & cream cheese on white, parsley garnish

CHOOSING BREADS

In general: consider different colors and especially textures of breads, and pair sandwich ingredients accordingly. For example, chicken salad is chunky and heavy so only a hearty and dense bread can stand up to it, whereas potato bread is very soft and delicate and can just about hold a thin layer of egg salad without collapsing. Likewise, multiple ingredients add up, so a stack of ham and brie and apples needs a much sturdier bread than a couple of thin slices of cucumber.

Advance prep tip: if you intend to trek all over your entire county procuring various breads from particular bake shops (see: “unrepentant food snob” above; see also: “idiot”), or worse, make these breads yourself (?!!! What.), you can freeze the loaves when they’re fresh and defrost them right before you’re ready to start assembling sandwiches. Do yourself a favor and request the loaves be machine-sliced if possible: that kind of slice uniformity is pretty much unattainable by hand slicing, and it will save you time.

CHOOSING SANDWICH INGREDIENTS

In general: Make sure to choose spreads, salads and sandwich fillings that you like, since you’re going to be eating most of it anyway out of the towering piles of scraps you will generate. You will require a metric fuckton of butter (I prefer unsalted but YMMV). For sandwiches that do not contain cream cheese, estimate about one stick (4 oz.) of butter per loaf of bread. You may also/instead find you need an equally absurd quantity of cream cheese; estimate about one package (8 oz.) per loaf of bread. In any event you will need a small amount of cream cheese in order to affix garnishes to your sandwiches. (Until, that is, you inevitably say fuck it and start “garnishing” your sandwiches with colorful cocktail toothpicks or whatever else you can scrounge up around your house. Candy corn? Wine corks? Origami paper? Get creative! Practically anything beats carefully selecting, cutting, dipping in cream cheese and perfectly applying fresh little parsley leaves to dozens of sandwiches. ffs.)

The magic key to this whole finger sandwich thing really is the butter and cream cheese. The critical property these substances share is their ability to create an impermeable barrier between the bread and the sandwich filling, such that no soggy bread shall mar your Mothers Day. Thus, the butter (or cream cheese) must be properly applied to your bread slices thusly:

breadyep^Yep.

Nope:

breadnopeAdvance prep tip: If you do nothing else in advance, set out your metric fuckton of butter and/or cream cheese to soften overnight. Unfortunately, most of these sandwich fillings cannot be prepared very far in advance. Most do not survive freezing very well (except for the pepperoni and cream cheese sandwiches, which seem to do just fine). But what you can do the day before you assemble the sandwiches are things like buy fresh parsley, hard boil and peel eggs for egg salad, cook and dice up chicken for chicken salad, wash and drain fruits, vegetables and fresh parsley—anything you can think of, really. Tomorrow’s gonna suck.

ASSEMBLY & CUTTING

In general: This part will take all fucking day, so clear your calendar, make room in your refrigerator, and open a nice bottle of wine before proceeding. Pour a glass, and repeat as necessary throughout the day.

pepperoni & cream cheese on semolina, roasted red pepper garnish

pepperonicrcheese

  • 2 loaves semolina bread (about 12 slices each)—I like LaBrea
  • 2 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese
  • 1/2 pound slicing pepperoni (available at most supermarket deli counters), thinly sliced
  • roasted red peppers, sliced into small strips (for garnish)

yield: about 24-30 finger sandwiches, depending on size and shape of bread slices.

Spread a layer of cream cheese evenly onto each slice of bread. Completely cover every slice of bread with one layer of pepperoni. On half the slices, spread a thin layer of cream cheese, then press them together with the remaining slices, lining up the crusts as much as possible (the cream cheese in the center will hold the two layers of pepperoni together). Slice off the crust and discard, then slice into shapes as desired. Thoroughly blot small strips of roasted red pepper on paper towels, and apply one to the center of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese.

HOW TO CUT A WONKY-SHAPED LOAF INTO PERFECT TRIANGLES:

cuttingtrianglesscraps? nom nom nom…

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cranberry almond chicken salad on raisin pecan bread, cranberry garnish.

cranberryalmondchicken

  • 2 small loaves raisin pecan bread (about 10 slices each)
  • about 1 ½ sticks (6 oz.) butter, softened
  • 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked and diced
  • 3 cups (12 oz.) sliced almonds
  • 1 package (5 oz.) dried cranberries
  • mayonnaise (start with two heaping tablespoons, and gradually mix in more little by little as necessary until ingredients stick and hold together well)
  • salt to taste
  • tiny amount of cream cheese for attaching cranberry garnish

yield: about 18-20 finger sandwiches, depending on the size and shape of bread slices.

Set aside some dried cranberries for garnish; chop up the rest. In a large mixing bowl, combine chicken, almonds and chopped cranberries. Mix in mayo in small amounts until the mixture holds together well. Add salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate.

cranberryalmondchicken2Spread a thin layer of butter onto each slice of bread. Spread the chicken salad mixture evenly onto half the bread slices. (I find a fork to be helpful here.) Press the rest of the raisin bread slices onto the chicken salad, lining up the crusts as much as possible. With a sharp bread knife cut off the crusts and discard, then slice each remaining sandwich in half or thirds: I end up with diamond shapes, triangles and trapezoids. It doesn’t matter—they’re all pretty. Affix a cranberry to the top of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese (NOTE: I use more cream cheese here than I normally would because I like the way the white sets off the color of the cranberry. I am weird.)

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egg salad on potato bread, fresh parsley garnish

eggsalad

  • one standard sized loaf of potato bread (about 14 slices)
  • one stick butter (4 oz.)
  • one dozen large eggs, hard boiled
  • mayonnaise (start with two tablespoons, and gradually add more little by little as necessary until texture is creamy)
  • salt to taste
  • parsley leaves (for garnish)
  • tiny amount of cream cheese to attach garnish

yield: about 14 finger sandwiches.

Chop the hard boiled eggs up into little pieces and put them in a mixing bowl. Add the mayo, and thoroughly mix it all up with a fork, adding more mayo gradually if necessary until the mixture is evenly creamy. Mix in salt to taste, cover and refrigerate.

Spread a thin layer of butter onto each slice of potato bread. Spread the egg salad evenly onto half the bread slices (I find a fork helpful here). Place the rest of the bread slices on top, and press gently. With a sharp bread knife cut off the crusts and discard, then slice the remaining square in half, either diagonally to make triangles or straight down the middle to make rectangles. Affix a leaf of parsley to the top of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese.

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ham & brie with apples on rye, parsley garnish

hamapplebrie

  • 2 loaves seedless rye bread (about 12 slices each)
  • about 1½ sticks (6 oz.) butter, softened
  • 3 packages (7 oz. each) thin-sliced deli ham—I like Applegate Naturals Uncured Slow Cooked
  • 3 wedges of brie
  • 3 green apples: golden delicious if you like sweet, granny smith for more tart
  • fresh parsley, for garnish
  • tiny amount of cream cheese to affix garnish

yield: about 24 finger sandwiches.

Spread a thin layer of butter onto each slice of bread. Core and slice the apples into thin sections, and cover half the bread slices with a layer of apples. Remove the wax coating from the brie wedges, and slice/spread/press a layer of brie more or less evenly onto each apple layer. The goal here is to make sure the apple slices are sealed between the butter and brie (take that, American Heart Association!). Thoroughly blot the ham slices on paper towels, and layer them evenly onto the brie. Place the remaining bread slices onto the ham, and press gently. With a sharp bread knife cut off the crusts and discard, then slice the remaining square in half. Affix a leaf of parsley to the top of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese.

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pickled tuna salad on whole wheat, parsley garnish

tuna

  • 2 loaves of whole wheat bread (about 12 slices each)
  • 2 sticks (4 oz. each) butter, softened
  • 2 large cans (12 oz. each) and 2 small cans (5 oz. each) of tuna, well drained—I like solid white albacore in water.
  • 3 Tbsp. sweet relish
  • mayonnaise (start with two large tablespoons, and gradually add more little by little as necessary until tuna/relish mixture holds together)
  • salt to taste
  • fresh parsley, for garnish (alternative: slice of baby gherkin pickle, thoroughly blotted on paper towel)
  • tiny amount of cream cheese to affix garnish.

yield: about 24 finger sandwiches.

In a mixing bowl, combine tuna, sweet relish and mayo. Mix well with a fork, breaking up larger chunks of tuna and adding mayo if necessary until the mixture holds together. Add salt to taste, cover and refrigerate.

Spread a thin layer of butter onto each slice of wheat bread. Spread the tuna salad evenly onto half the bread slices. (I find a fork helpful for forming an even layer.) Place the rest of the bread slices on top, and press gently. With a sharp bread knife cut off the crusts and discard, then slice the remaining square in half, either diagonally to make triangles or straight down the middle to make rectangles. Affix a leaf of parsley (or slice of baby gherkin pickle) to the top of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese.

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cucumber & cream cheese on white, parsley garnish

cucumbercrcheese

  • 1 loaf white bread (about 12 slices)
  • 1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese—at least.
  • 1 large cucumber (or 2 small)
  • salt to taste
  • fresh parsley for garnish
  • tiny amount of cream cheese to affix garnish.

yield: about 12 finger sandwiches.

Peel and slice the cucumber: slices should be just thick enough that they hold their form and are not floppy when you pick them up. Spread them out on paper towels, and press another layer of paper towels on top of them to blot thoroughly. Remove the top layer of paper towels and sprinkle the cucumber slices with a dusting of salt. Set aside.

Spread an even layer of cream cheese on each slice of bread. Completely cover every slice with a layer of cucumber. On half the slices, spread a thin layer of cream cheese, then press them together with the remaining slices, lining up the crusts as much as possible (the cream cheese in the center will hold the two layers of cucumber together). Slice off the crust, then slice into shapes as desired. Affix a leaf of parsley to the top of each finger sandwich with a dab of cream cheese.

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STORING

After you make each type of finger sandwich, cover them with plastic wrap, and store in sealed containers in the refrigerator until ready to plate and serve. I use plastic takeout food containers I’ve saved, and stack up the sturdier sandwiches in a cake storage container (with plastic wrap between layers). They will stay fresh for a few days.

PLATING

Place paper doilies on a serving platter—this helps keep the bottom layer of bread from getting soggy. Make a first layer in the center of the platter with your sturdiest finger sandwiches, and build a pyramid with the rest of the sandwiches from the center up and out from there. As much as possible, try to keep the most delicate ones out from under heavier sandwiches or multiple layers. Pick a pretty one for the very top. A few berries (strawberries or raspberries) add a nice splash of color.

BONUS TIP: I’ve picked up some really nice platters at my local thrift shop very inexpensively. They add to the presentation and make a nice Mothers Day gift. Along with the fucking sandwiches.

platters

Thrift shop platters: cheap, for realz.

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*One of the best ways I’ve found to mitigate the unconscionable wastefulness of this craptastic undertaking is to have friends, lovers or kids around to nosh on the mountains of crusty scraps and delicious fillings you will inevitably end up with. It’s best to plan such visits in shifts, because as I said this will take all fucking day. If anyone asks whether they can help or bring anything, say unhesitatingly “More wine.” Alternatively, you can just toss the leftover scraps into a big bowl rather than into the garbage, and keep them covered and refrigerated. They’ll be good for a few days, and kids apparently enjoy picking through your garbage and eating it.

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Eat Here the Standard Mega-Corporate Diet

Introduction

A program called “The 2014 Food Revolution Summit” began on April 26. The first day of the proceedings brought to mind, at one point, Dante’s 1814 Divine Comedy.

The Summit featured a series of 24 free lectures on the Internet, each lasting almost an hour, conducted over an eight-day period, with three talks per day. The range of topics dealt with the challenge of eating in ways that are good for the health of the individual, that respect and conserve the environment and that exhibit decent regard for other life forms. A lot of attention, as you might expect, was focused on the power of what one speaker called the “corporate kleptocracy” that transgresses mightily against the three interests noted—human health, the environment and other animals.

No doubt a major theme of this event was this: That food products created and promoted by major industries cause massive amounts of suffering all over the planet. Details concerning this proposition were offered depicting the degradation of the food supply, with stomach and brain churning data regarding the problems and hazards of our industrial food system. No wonder such an overwhelmingly large segment of society does not live and dine wisely. The Summit is simply another reminder of the fact that reality is not cheerful—“cantdoit” is the norm and it’s not going anywhere soon.

American Food ManufacturersOver 100,000 participants registered for this free Summit event. While the nature of the dreadful system described is unlikely to change anytime soon, awareness of the realities is unquestionably useful for the small number of informed people who can recognize how and why things are as they are.

The founder and leader of the Summit ia John Robbins, assisted by his son Ocean. Robins is an author, social activist and a  humanitarian. He is a recipient of many honors, including the Rachel Carson, Albert Schweitzer, Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience and the Green America Lifetime Achievement awards. The two men interviewed 24 highly engaged doctors and others well-known for their books, research, nutrition-reform initiatives and other involvements. All these speakers are, as usual, celebrated in some nutrition circles, loathed in others. That’s how it is when you make a mark in the world or, come to think of it, when you fail to make a mark in the world, as well. Not only can you not please all the people all the time; it seems you can’t avoid really pissing off a good number of them, either.

The goal of the Summit is to promote a movement for change in the American and other food systems that will enable greater opportunities for a future with healthier, more sustainable, more humanely derived and consciously enjoyed food for all.

Day One: The Big Three of a Plant-Based Diet Approach

I tuned in to the first day’s three lectures, featuring three of the biggest “guns” or “hardest hitters” or whatever phrase might be assigned to the renowned lead-off medical experts with rather nutrient-dense portfolios.

First up was Mark Hyman, a family physician, author and adviser for multiple media outlets, politicians, a charlatan or two and varied citizen groups active in large scale weight loss projects. Among them are Rick Warren’s mega-church, though it’s obvious that Dr. Hyman’s diet advice must be of little interest to the Reverend himself, a bloated bloviator of biblical babble.

The second speaker was Dean Ornish, founder of a noted research institute and author of six best-sellers. More than any other, the Ornish program is based on making lifestyle changes an alternative to drugs and other medical strategies. In addition to the usual diet, exercise and stress reduction emphases, Dr. Ornish advocates such REAL wellness qualities as love, enjoyment and meaning to extend and transform lives.

The third speaker was Caldwell Esselstyn, a former rancher, surgeon and successful author who runs a plant-based diet program at the Cleveland Clinic and from his own foundation that he claims will render adherents “bullet-proof” to heart disease. Needless to say, this makes him a lightening rod for powerful interests in the medical community whose careers, livelihood and reputations are founded on interventions to treat heart disease. Dr. Esselstyn is also the father of Rip Esselstyn, a former professional triathlete who himself is quite famous and successful for his books and programs about “Engine 2” whole-foods plant-based approaches to well being.

Highlights

The three opening day speakers provided sweeping overviews of the system—one noting that there are 600,000 food items available today—and you don’t benefit from most of them. Politics and disease drive the health, or rather medical care system, with our Federal government inadvertently subsidizing the obesity epidemic.

Common fallacies were addressed, such as the idea that all  calories are the same, that if you balance calories in and calories out you’ll do fine. This was termed absurd. It’s the nature of the calories taken in that matter more than number consumed. The extent of dysfunctional subsidies for unhealthy food that Congress steers to mega-farming industries was documented. Politically-driven priorities are, of course, guided by massive campaign donations. Surprisingly, such perfidy is not universal: Mexico is one of the few countries that subsidize and promote foods high in nutrient values.

The determinants of health were reviewed. Dr. Hyman said that “we inherit tendencies from our parents, but we don’t inherit destinies.” At present, the food industry, “which is the biggest drug ring on the planet,” profits by alienating us from our bodies. People can change, but under present conditions it’s unlikely—they can’t do it. The good doctors downplayed genetics from its all-controlling reputation to a 50/50 role with environments and chance. One identified an overlooked variable—the lifestyles of friends. (“You are more likely to be overweight if your friends are overweight than if your parents are overweight.”) Our connections are more controlling of the choices we’ll make than anything else. The advice: If you want to be fit and trim, hang out with healthy people who eat and otherwise live wisely. Good plan, and of course offered in the context of other considerations (e.g., being kind and helpful to those who don’t meet the healthy test).

One needed strategy for all who desire food system reforms is to decentralize; local actions are more likely to succeed. All speakers want us to “reclaim our taste buds,” dulled by sugar and other non-nutritive added ingredients. In mocking health claims on labels (with many examples, such as “vitamin water”), Dr. Hyman offered an ironic guideline, “If a product has a health claim on the label, it’s probably bad for you.” He agreed that milk, as the dairy industry ads proclaim, “is nature’s perfect food” but added, “if you’re a dairy cow.” All three first-day speakers in varied ways suggested that our food aid export programs inflict our bad eating habits and food production processes on other nations. One remarked that if another country wreaked as much havoc on the health of American children as we do just about everywhere, we would go to war over it.

The three speakers, especially Dr. Esselstyn, hold thoroughly to the premise that our food culture is toxic. Big companies contaminate food with pesticides, hormones, GMOs and chemicals, and create products attractive to kids that are in fact sugary junk. No wonder 18 percent of our GDP goes for medical expenditures—this will not change for the better if we remain locked into a chemical-laden, highly processed, sugar infested and pesticide-contaminated pseudo-food diet.

A considerable emphasis was placed on the wisdom of choosing foods that are organic, sustainable, subject to fair trade, guided by GMO-free policies and obtained in ways both humane and healthy.

Major campaigns are in underway in 30 states for GMO labeling, improved treatment of animals and policies that require factory farms to pay for the pollution they produce. In addition, efforts are widespread across the country to reform school lunch menus currently designed by and beneficial only to the dairy, cattle and other food industries—not school children or taxpayers.

Dean Ornish focused on making healthy choices, doing the right thing for your health based not on disease avoidance but on the payoffs of positive returns. His was a REAL wellness message, a quality that has always characterized his work. He reviewed the limits of medicine and the sad fact that we seem conditioned to look for a new drug, gizmo (e.g., laser), surgical intervention—all things high-tech and, unfortunately, as expensive as they are ineffective for health enrichment. According to Dr. Ornish, ”seventy-five percent of the $2.7 trillion in health care costs, which are really ‘sick care’ costs, are from chronic diseases that can be largely prevented, or even reversed, by changing diet and lifestyle.”

All promoted simple choices we can make every day—“what we eat, how we respond to stress, whether or not we smoke, how much we exercise and the quality of our relationships.” Dr. Ornish made the case for overcoming obstacles and barriers great and small on an individual basis, though in concert with others, whenever possible.

The three doctors addressed issues of science, the health insurance system, the role of behaviors on all the major diseases, needed medical reforms, the problems with fear-based motivation and the need to link good health with joy, love, meaning in life, fun, optimism, better bodies, good sensations (and vibrations, no doubt) and all of that.

Dr. Ornish said that the work he has done under the wellness banner is indeed a bit “touchy-feely” but it’s backed by science and it works.

Follow Up

If you want to listen to any or all of these freepresentations now, after the Summit has concluded, you will have to spend a little money to do so. However, it won’t cost much. You can buy one of the three optional packages on offer and you will have all the lectures and more. This small investment will surely be wildly profitable in terms of knowledge gained and, assuming you follow at least some of the advice, quality of life returns. (The lectures were free during the Summit; however, the three daily lectures were available at no cost online only for 24 hours during the week-long Summit.) Three Food Revolution Summit Empowerment Package options range in price from $97 to $227.

Many thousands of well-informed, highly conscious people have reaped the rewards of switching from the standard American diet to a whole foods, plant-based menu promoted by the Summit speakers. I expect that tens of thousands more will benefit from the work of John Robbins and the 24 truly exceptional speakers featured in the 2014 Food Revolution Summit, as well as from related efforts across the Western world. But, this aware segment of the planet’s population will remain a small portion of the six billion humans struggling to get by every day, many grateful to have anything at all to eat, and thus the poignant realities for most people will not be much affected in our lifetimes. There is no reason, save for the fortunate few, to expect a major change in the controlling reality that blocks the way to even a reasonable level of well being for most, let alone that resulting from a REAL wellness mentality and lifestyle.

C’est dommage.

Just the same, oh fortunate ones, continue to eat wisely, live well and enjoy your time. Though it is true, as Ingersoll observed, that “we are all children of the same Mother and the same fate awaits us all,” while we’re here our realities are more unalike than similar. Try to make the most of what you have but also consider doing what little you can for the well being of your fellow man.

 

Happy Zombie Jeezus Day!

The Atheist Camel notes:

Well, it’s that time of year again when the mythical man-god of the Christians who committed suicide by cop to save the world from his own retribution, is credited with rising from his tomb, seeing his shadow and thus condemning the planet to a few millennia of superstition, lies, rejection of science, and assorted mystical stupidity.

We plan to celebrate in the traditional way, by drinking Bloody Marys and eating chocolate Jeezus lollipops.

jesuslollipop

 

Chocolate Jeezus Lollipop.

Remember to observe the proper etiquette, people, so as not to offend: photos of cheap plastic Jesus submerged in pee = very bad!  Eating chocolate Jeezus lollipops and letting human digestion take its natural course = totally fine.

Back to IMPORTANT business: tardigrades.

Now that every single thing has been said on the subject of abortion rights, the shitweasel arguments in opposition thereto, and the Man Children who feel entitled to materially abandon their own offspring because waaaaaaaaah, we can finally get back to matters far more pressing than forced birth, child abandonment and all the dead and maimed women and impoverished families around the globe.*

I refer, of course, to the tardigrades.

Waterbear Tardigrade (water bear) Hypsibius dujardini
scanning electron micrograph by Bob Goldstein & Vicky Madden
UNC Chapel Hill

Immediately after the first episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos, I took to Facebook to complain bitterly about the inexcusable lack of attention paid to tardigrades. Tyson and the producers obviously saw my complaint, because they attempted to rectify this tragic oversight by briefly discussing tardigrades in the second episode. But still, there were not nearly enough tardigrades, because as visitors to the Tardigrade Wing at the Palace Zoo well know, tardigrades are the coolest creatures ever:

They are teeny, tiny, water-dwelling, eight-legged animals prevalent in moss and lichen. About 1 millimeter (0.039 in) in length when fully grown, they can be seen under a low-power microscope. Tardigrades are able to survive in extreme environments that would kill almost any other animal: they can withstand temperatures from just above absolute zero to well above the boiling point of water, pressures about 6 times stronger than pressures found in the deepest ocean trenches, ionizing radiation at doses hundreds of times higher than would kill a human, and the vacuum of outer space. They can go without food or water for many years, drying out to the point where they are less than 3% water—then rehydrate, forage, and reproduce. Tardigrades have been found in hot springs, on top of the Himalayas, under layers of solid ice, in ocean sediments, in lakes, ponds, meadows, stone walls and roofs. Usually males and females are present, but some species are parthenogenetic.

Here is Professor Bob Goldstein at his lab at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill ‘splaining:

In other words, tardigrades are possibly space aliens, and in any event they are damn near…immortal.

I am sure you can see where this is going.

Yes, Loyal Readers™, the Palace lab will be testing the hypothesis that if I eat enough tardigrades, I will become a virtually immortal extremophile just as they are. To get started on this exciting and important research project, I sent an urgent missive to Professor Goldstein at his lab:

Dear Professor Goldstein:

I am a New York City-based columnist and blogger who usually writes about sex (I’m for it!) as well as politics and religion (I’m against ‘em!), and who finds herself weirdly enamored with tardigrades. I also write to promote science, skepticism, and the sheer transcendent joy to be found in discovering the wonders of the natural world. To that end I maintain a virtual zoo on my personal blog, in which I have a tardigrade specimen named Schnoot.

If I sound like a kook so far, well you’re probably right but I hope you will bear(!) with me.

____________

Professor Goldstein, have you ever eaten tardigrades?

If yes:
What do they taste like?
Do you have any good recipes?
What wine pairing would you recommend?
Are you now immortal?

If no:
Are they poisonous or otherwise dangerous to eat?
Would you recommend that I cook them (over 303 degrees F of course!) before I eat them, or do you think I have to eat them live in order to become immortal?

__________

With many thanks and kind regards,
-Iris Vander Pluym

I sent this over a week ago, and yet believe it or not as of this writing I have received no response from the good professor. WTF, Professor Goldstein. I have, however, made some important progress: a Loyal Subject™ is presently on a covert mission somewhere in the hinterlands of North Carolina collecting tardigrade specimens for me to eat. I shall report my progress once the next steps have been taken and/or Professor Goldstein responds to my inquiry. In the meantime, in order to remedy the appalling failure of Cosmos to provide us with enough tardigrades, please enjoy this slideshow, courtesy of Prof. Goldstein’s lab.

And this:

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*I am not really making light of or minimizing these things, of course. That was some heavy shit we’ve been dealing with around here, and, well, sometimes I crave a little dark humor in order to recharge, retrench and prepare to do battle with the shitweasels the next time. I make it a point to find some joy in my day, every day. Otherwise, the terrorists shitweasels win.

Iris the Idiot’s Kitchen: Frankie’s Mom’s Ricotta Cheesecake.

ricottacheesecakeFrankie’s Mom’s Ricotta Cheesecake.
Only at Gaetana’s…and the Palace Kitchen.

gaetanaslogoMy friend Frankie is the proprietor of Gaetana’s, a neighborhood bar and restaurant on Christopher Street. Frankie hails from Brooklyn, and is 100% Italian-American by heritage. Specifically, Sicilian-American, with everything that implies. For example, at least in Frankie’s case, it implies an enormous brick wall festooned with Frank Sinatra memorabilia, the sounds of Sirius XM’s Sinatra station, a prominently displayed Italian flag and, at least occasionally, patrons who look and sound like they came right out of central casting. If youse know whud I mean.

None of this is intended to be the least bit ironic; nor am I dissing Frankie’s culture (it is, after all, very similar to my own Southern Italian heritage). Frankie is one of the most gregarious, generous, genuine people I know. He flirts shamelessly and charmingly with customers of all ages, genders, races, sexual orientations and whatever other demographic identities you might envision wandering in off of Christopher Street. (Well, with the exception of the panhandlers, who sometimes sneak in to hassle diners and drinkers; they get quickly and quietly escorted out.) On my first visit to the bar at his fine establishment, some fucking priest(!) ate my fucking pizza(!). Frankie gave me another one and two glasses of Chianti. For free.

gaetana&frankiejr

Frank Jr. (Frankie’s dad) & Gaetana.

Frankie’s mother—the late, great, beautiful, and by all accounts much loved Gaetana—was a wonderful cook, and Frankie was an eager and gifted student. Originally, he envisioned this restaurant venture of his as your basic neighborhood bar and pizza joint, but the menu quickly expanded to include dozens of dishes from the kitchen of his childhood:

  • pastas with marinara, clam sauce, pesto, garlic & oil, vodka sauce, a wicked hot fra diavolo or a sweet bolognese. Pumpkin ravioli in brown butter & sage. Lasagna to die for.
  • homemade meatballs, enormous pork chops piled with hot cherry peppers, shell steaks, several fresh fish dishes, jumbo shrimp scampi, chicken (Marsala, Milanese, Piccata, Pomodoro, Valdestano…).
  • traditional soups: Pasta Fagioli, Lentil, Stracciatella. Sometimes, Italian wedding.
  • cold antipasto, mussels in white wine with garlic and oil, fried calamari (ask for that with Frankie’s cocktail sauce instead of the marinara), amazing stuffed artichokes (fergawdsake people, save some of the homemade focaccia for dipping).
  • Pizza. Frankie’s pizza is my all time New York favorite—and that is saying something, my friends. (I am not alone in that assessment, either.)

All of it is made to order, with really fresh ingredients. In fact, if he has the ingredients, he’ll make you anything you want. Mangia.

There are countless upscale Italian restaurants in this city, places where the decor is opulent, there are sommeliers and Executive Chefs, the cuisine is trendy and inventive, the Barolo runs $350 a bottle and watching the wait staff perform is like watching dinner theatre. Frankie’s place is nothing like that. I mean that as the highest compliment. Gaetana’s is unpretentious, welcoming, casual, inexpensive (relatively speaking) and fun, with a quirky clientele. Frankie’s sister is a waitress there, he’s got old friends on staff, and no matter their ages all the bartenders are strictly old-school. In the parlance of the food critic/foodie/food snob, Gaetana’s is what’s called a “red sauce joint,” often derisively. Done this well? There ain’t no shame in that.

But then, Dear Lard, there is the ricotta cheesecake.

If you’ve never had it, there is nothing quite like it, which makes it kind of hard to explain. It’s not as sweet as typical (“New York style”) cheesecake, and it has the subtle-but-distinct flavor of fresh citrus. But it’s the texture that really sets it apart: it’s slightly more granular than creamy, with a lightly caramelized golden-brown “crust” on top. Let me put it this way: if you enjoy savory dishes made with Italian ricotta—lasagna, manicotti, cheese ravioli—and you like cheesecake, you will freaking love this. And it turns out many people who do not care for traditional cheesecake (myself included) really love it too. Like, a lot.

Just as I do, Frankie comes from an Italian-American cooking tradition where family recipes are not written down anywhere and consist mainly of a string of helpful directives like, “Then add the chopped garlic.” How much garlic? “You know, enough.” In all likelihood this is why I had to beg him for the recipe for more than a year. One night, after the usual good-natured teasing and terribly insincere pouting on my part, he finally slammed his fist down on the bar and said, “That’s it! I’m giving you the recipe right now!” He tore a page out of a datebook, went into the kitchen and shortly thereafter handed me this:

frankierecipe I was so happy I nearly wept with joy. Naturally, I failed to notice that there were certain key pieces of information missing, things one typically thinks of when one hears the word “recipe.” Things I noticed the next day, like how (and how long) do you mix these ingredients? How long do you bake it? What’s the best way to cool it? And what on Earth does the cryptic scrawl “IN WATER” mean? I suddenly had a vision of Frankie in his kitchen going through the motions of making a ricotta cheesecake from memory, checking how much ricotta cheese comes in a commercial container and furiously jotting down approximations of everything else (“about, I dunno, a cuppa parmesan? what, maybe six ounces of orange juice? a couple, say, six eggs?”)

But it didn’t matter. It was indeed a recipe, Italian-style, a form of art in which I am fluent. I knew I would figure it out. And here it is.

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Frankie’s Mom’s Ricotta Cheesecake

NON-FOOD ITEMS YOU WILL NEED

zester

  • an electric mixer (or a handheld whisk + something called “stamina”)
  • a zester* (or multi-function grater)
  • a loaf pan (for water)
  • a working oven
  • a refrigerator
  • a springform pan**

*<—This is a zester. Use it to scrape the brightly colored skin off of the orange and lemon, taking as little of the white pith underneath as possible.
IMPORTANT SAFETY WARNING: without advanced-level training the zester is not recommended for use in the Bedroom.

springformpan**This is a springform pan.
It’s a pretty nifty 2-part thingy that seals tightly
to enclose the filling. After baking, you release the latch
to remove the band around the sides. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 lbs ricotta cheese (whole milk)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons vanilla extract***
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 6 oz. orange juice
  • zest of 1 orange
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • dusting of powdered sugar
  • fruit garnish (optional)

madagascarvanilla***Frankie wrote “2 Tbs” but he might have mean teaspoons here. Then again, maybe not. I keep forgetting to ask him. So I use about 1½ tablespoons of Nielsen-Massey Vanilla’s Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extract. TRUE FACT: you really can’t go wrong here.

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Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C). Place a standard loaf pan filled halfway with water on the oven’s lower shelf. Lightly coat the inside of the springform pan with unsalted butter. If it’s not a non-stick pan give it a light coat of flour, too.

Zest the lemon and the orange, and combine the zest with all the other ingredients (except the powdered sugar and optional fruit) in a large mixing bowl. With an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix on medium-high until well-blended (about 2 mins).

ricottacheesecake1

BEFORE…

Pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan. Place the springform pan on the top shelf of the oven. (NOTE: it’s fairly heavy, almost full to the brim and highly liquid at this stage, so take your time and be careful. IOW, don’t be like me.)

coolingcheesecake

…AFTER.

Bake for about 1½ hours. Maybe more. Maybe less. I don’t know. What I’m saying is your mileage will vary because mine certainly does, depending on the temperature accuracy of the oven I’m using and how often I open the door to check it, the diameter of the springform pan (larger than 9″ means a shallower cheesecake that bakes in less time), the altitude of the kitchen, the liquid content of the particular ricotta brand (which also varies with the same brand), and probably a bunch of other stuff I don’t know anything about.

*sigh*

goldenbrownricottacheesecake

Mah done cake.

For me, the best way to determine when it is finished baking is to shake the oven rack a little bit and observe the consistency: it should appear firmer (and more golden brown) around the edges, and more jiggly in the center. Like jello. Mine bakes in a little more than an hour and a half, sometimes an hour and 45 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a cooling rack for twenty minutes. The cheesecake will flatten a little bit and begin to pull away from the sides. Carefully run a butter knife around the sides of the pan to keep it from sticking. Transfer the pan to the refrigerator to cool for 3 hours. Then cover the pan pan with a lid or foil and let it cool in the refrigerator overnight.

To serve: remove the springform band. Optional: transfer cheesecake to a cake stand or plate by first loosening the bottom with a knife or thin spatula and then sliding it carefully onto the desired surface. Good luck with that.

Slice into wedges, extract each wedge with a cake server and plate it.

Optional: add fruit garnish to the plate—berries and oranges work well, and provide a nice counterpoint. I would definitely try kiwi, peaches (raw or cooked), maybe pineapple.

Dust each plated slice with powdered sugar right before serving.

Taste Frankie’s Mom’s Ricotta Cheesecake.

Last—and this is important—try to remember that there is no god. Good luck with that too.

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Some notes from comparing other recipes.

Frankie’s recipe has no crust; other recipes I found have a crust, and I have tasted many delicious ricotta cheescakes that do. Frankie says that at least the traditional Sicilian recipe has no crust, and I have to say with this recipe I do not miss it. The texture of the top edge acts as a kind of crust, and of course without making crust the whole operation is simpler. One recipe I found said to coat the bottom of the pan with a mixture of sugar and breadcrumbs over the butter.

frankiewater

Spring Form Pan
IN
WATER
350°”
Wut.

 

Some recipes say to bake the springform pan in a larger pan filled with water to a level about halfway up the side of the springform pan. Maybe this is what Frankie may have meant by this.—> Maybe I’ll try it next time, but it really doesn’t seem to be necessary. (Some recipes don’t even mention water at all.)

There are recipes that call for half or less of the ricotta, and some that also add cream cheese. Some have less sugar. One recipe I found has rum in it (which seems more Caribbean than Italian, but is probably delicious regardless); another is made with honey.

Some require a food processor instead of a mixer; others require straining the ricotta beforehand.

I also came across one with a lower baking temperature (300 F/150 C).

Regarding bake time, one recipe suggested baking for one hour, and then turning the oven off but keeping the cheesecake in for another hour before removing it. This seems like a cool idea, but I’d have to test it.

I’ve seen directions to cool the cake in the refrigerator uncovered for one hour instead of three (and then keep it covered until it cools completely, “6-8 hours.”).

See the many recipes for yourself on the Google Machine.

And take look at these images for other variations and different serving suggestions.

My advice is to start with Frankie’s Mom’s recipe—it’s easy and delicious—and maybe then explore more challenging recipes. Lard knows I never will.

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A day in the life.

I don’t usually blog like this. It’s too personal. You probably know what I mean.

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I awoke to streaming sunshine and crystal clear blue skies.

I needed to mail a birthday card today, and didn’t want to miss the early mail truck pickup. Still I lingered a little too long over coffee, trading emails, poring over my research for a piece I’m working on for The Feminist Hivemind, and making plans to see After Tiller with a friend tomorrow at Film Forum on Houston.

Shit. Better get going. Shower. Check weather. Holy $#!+! It’s fifty fucking degrees outside! Dig through closet looking for sweaters. Get distracted piling up shirts I haven’t worn in a year. (New York Rule Number 6,722: if you haven’t worn it in a year, give it away or donate it. You need the closet space.) Ooh, look. A black sweater. I haven’t seen one since April.

I eschew makeup as usual, but I do manage to catch a glimpse of my hair in a mirror as I’m heading out the door. Jeezus Christ. It looks like an explosion of jungle overgrowth—and not in that ridiculously sexy way fashionable black women wear big, thick hair. Nope: mine is a tangled mass of wild waves, ringlets, cowlicks, frizz and random straight pieces sticking out, patchy golds and browns and a few wiry grays. My fucking head appears indistinguishable from a dirty old straw broom. I try artfully rearranging it. Parting it. Pulling on the bangs. A headband. Ponytail. Barrettes. None of this is even remotely helping. And I don’t have time to look for my winter hats.

Fuck it.

On the way to the post office is The Meadow, a store that can really only be described as the kind of place that can make one believe in magic. Not the supernatural kind, silly. The magic of an atmosphere suffused with whimsy, color and exotic scent—unmistakably earthly delights. The Meadow specializes in “Finishing Salt, Chocolate, Cocktail Bitters and Flowers,” and as you might imagine it smells really, really nice inside. Lately they’ve been promoting Himalayan salt block cooking, whatever that is. Gorgeous slabs of salt are stacked in the front window. Every time I pass by I wonder whether someone with my level of cooking “skill” could take on such a thing (probably not), and even if so, whether it would be worth it. (Probably not.)

themeadowI bought a little something there. You’ll never guess what. (HINT: it was neither finishing salt, cocktail bitters nor flowers.)

I dropped off my unloved shirts at my local thrift store Housing Works, and took a stroll around the shop. There were some affordable eye-catching finds…

hw

Clockwise from top left: 4-panel carved walnut screen (perfect for hanging all my feather boas!); vintage framed carved wood/painting; oversized wicker and wood chair; metal and lucite chandelier.

…none of which I have any use for, let alone room for. The chances of me finding what I’m actually looking for there are next to nil. (No one ever donates nice coasters. I know this, because I’ve been trolling thrift shops for nice coasters for years. Shit, if I had nice coasters I guess I wouldn’t give ‘em up either, because apparently nice coasters are rarer than Central Park Bigfoot sightings.) That’s the thing about thrift shops: you cannot go in looking for any specific something. You go in with an open mind and a well-honed sense of restraint for impulse buys, or you’re doomed. MOVING ON.

Steve Madden on Bleecker had some boots in the window, and, as it happens, I am in the market for boots. (New York is notoriously hard on shoes. After two years of resoling two pairs of boots that I love, they’re looking a bit beat up). The impossibly trendy sales clerks ignored me (my hair!) which is just as well. Because $500. For a single pair of boots. That aren’t even waterproof. And will almost certainly hurt my feet. MOVING ON.

I headed to a [REDACTED] store over on [REDACTED]. I would say more, except that I was shopping for a gift for someone who is known to read this very blog. Mission: unsuccessful. MOVING ON.

Whoa. Now I’m really hungry. I meant to eat a banana and some nuts before I left the Palace, but with all this Film Forum friend planning, old shirt collecting and MY GAWD THE HAIR I spaced it. I head toward Morandi.

Depending on how I hit the traffic lights, I often pass through a tiny park across the street from the restaurant on my way to or from. There’s a monument there which always godandfamouscatches my eye, because the side of its granite base that I see on my route says “GOD AND FAMOUS.” It’s a part of a quote that wraps around the whole block, but taken alone it just strikes me as…well, really weird. The kind of thing that triggers cascades of thought in all sorts of unexpected directions. God and famous. Wut? Do you win a game show or something, and get to pick whether you get to be either God or famous? If you win the bonus round do you get to be both God and famous? I paused to take a picture of it for my Loyal Readers™ (of course). It had warmed up a little and the sky was still blazing blue. People were seated on the handful of benches, reading newspapers and whatnot. I felt anchored to that spot, just wanted to stand there, and breathe. I read a sign about the park:

McCarthy Square

The 1811 Commissioners’ Plan—the far-reaching gridiron pattern which laid out the streets and avenues of Manhattan—had little immediate impact on the western part of Greenwich Village. The grid was intended to provide a system for the orderly development of land between 14th Street and Washington Heights. However the geography of the West Village had evolved in an unregulated fashion since colonial days, emerging from marshland to farmland and then from a rural suburb to a densely settled residential, commercial, and industrial neighborhood full of crooked streets.

Not until the 1910s and 1920s were Seventh and Eighth Avenues extended south of 14th Street. As a result, a number of small irregular parcels were created, including the traffic island at Charles Street, Waverly Place, and Seventh Avenue South. This parcel was acquired as a street and developed by the Borough President of Manhattan. In 1943 by Local Law #16 the City Council named the site in memory of Private First Class Bernard Joseph McCarthy, who was born and raised in Greenwich Village. A Marine, McCarthy was killed at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in August 1942 at the age of twenty-two. His was the first reported death of a Greenwich Village resident in the war.

The original version of McCarthy Square’s central flagpole originally stood on the grounds of the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens. It was moved to this site and embellished with an inscribed base of Deer Isle granite on behalf of neighborhood residents and the Dr. George A. Hayunga Maritime Post #1069 of the American Legion. Both the park and the memorial flagstaff were dedicated in June 1943, a tribute to a brave son of Greenwich Village, the first to fall for his country in World War II.

At about eye level there are colorful little houses set into the greenery. Why? Well, why not? (There’s probably some only-in-New-York story there.)

mccarthysquare

McCarthy Square.

vermentinoMorandi was bustling. I sat at the bar, and said hello to the bartender. Before I said anything more he had already poured me a glass of Vermentino. Okay, then. I ordered one of the lunch specials: orecchiette with spinach and butternut squash. More Vermentino, more email, and then a coffee. Goddamn, they make good coffee.

On my way out, I see Philip Seymour Hoffman and a companion at a table by the door, smiling and relaxing post-lunch. I run into a lot of famous (and infamous) people at my regular haunts, and I never, EVER do this, but for some reason (the Vermentino? the sunshine glistening off of Hoffman’s eminently recognizable silky pale-gold mop?) I was going to plotz down right next to him and ask if I could take a picture with him.

Then I remembered: OMFG hair.

There would be no photographs.

I took the long way home.

It turned out to be a good mail day at the Palace. Samantha Irby’s book Meaty finally arrived. (I loooove her blog.)

meatybitchesgottaeat

It will go right on top of the stack of books I really want to read but never seem to get to.

I have a dinner date tonight with My Amazing Lover™.

FFS I gotta blow-dry my bangs.

Spring in the West Village.

spring201301Every year like clockwork Spring arrives, and the neighborhood trees bloom in floating clouds of white and pale pink blossoms.  Hurricane Sandy knocked out a few prize specimens last fall, but for the most part young trees have already been planted to replace them.

The West Village is beautiful even in the dead of winter, mostly 19th century masonry and a few brick-&-glass monstrosities built before the neighborhood acquired official historic status.  The zoning change made it exceedingly difficult to build anything out of character.  But developers and architects with high-end pedigrees soon set their sights on the West Side Highway, along the Hudson River, heralding a new wave of modernism.  The Richard Meier buildings were among the first to sprout; Barry Diller’s IAC building followed soon after.  The new Whitney Museum by Renzo Piano is the latest:  it is expected to be amazing, and also to send property values in West Chelsea rocketing from already astronomical orbits.  I like modern architecture.  I am especially enamored with Shigeru Ban’s Metal Shutter Houses.  I just do not want to see all of the antique masonry, plaster walls, working fireplaces and tiny gardens buried under a blizzard of luxury condos.

But this post is not about that.  It’s about Spring.  In the West Village.  And the extent to which its charms can be captured by Your Humble Monarch on her trusty iPhone.

Pics and pith below the fold.

Continue reading

The One True God: Revealed!

I know, I know.  I would be the last person on earth one would expect to receive a revelation from God.  I mean, I’ve long had standing arrangements to meet up with all of my friends in the afterlife in the Second Circle of Hell (the VIP section, of course).  But I am here to tell you, my beloved brothers and sisters, that when the Lord reveals Himself unto you there is simply no mistaking the message, and nothing more to be done but praise Him!

What?  Oh, right.  So let me tell you.  I was dining at a neighborhood bar, morosely pining away for My Amazing Lover™ who was traveling to a state that I am currently girlcotting, and berating myself for having really fucking inconvenient principles.  I swear, if the Devil himself had shown up right then and there with a Faustian offer and a ticket to Scottsdale, I’d have caved in a heartbeat.  I ordered another drink, and plate of fried calamari.

Soon a glistening pile of golden rings and curlicues arrived.  I spritzed it with lemon, then forlornly stabbed at each piece, dipping it in spicy red cocktail sauce on its way to my pouting maw.  I was hungrier than I thought, and it tasted good.  The bartender topped off my wine glass without me even asking.

And then came…the vision.  And I’m sorry to break it to you folks who were picturing some white d00d with a beard or something, but God is nothing like that.  It was an extraordinary being beyond imagining, and the sight provoked in me such joy, such amazement, such inner warmth as I have never known.  A creature unlike any other, with the face of the most serene Buddha, the stealth and strength of Cthulhu, the many-armed Hindu goddess Kali crawling out from beneath, two long appendages reached out toward me.  I was stunned, and yet I had no fear.  I adored Him instantly.

Fortunately I had my trusty iPhone with me, and I didn’t hesitate to whip it out.  God didn’t seem to mind at all, so I just started snapping away.  And so here, Loyal Readers™, I bring to you the most incredible sight:  the One True God.

onetruegod

onetruegod2

How can you not love Him, amirite?  Also:  He is deeee-licious.

Hallelujah!  And pass the cocktail sauce!

The Tonga Room.

Your Humble Monarch™ found herself this evening at The Tonga Room, a restaurant in the stunning Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.  According to the blurb:

The Fairmont San Francisco created an indoor 75-foot swimming pool on its Terrace Level in 1929.  Known as the “Fairmont Terrace Plunge”, the elaborate tile pool attracted local crowds as well as celebrities such as actress Helen Hayes, actor Ronald Reagan and members of the Water Follies.

In 1945, Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s leading set director, Mel Melvin, was hired to transform the Terrace Plunge into the Tonga Room.  The pool became a lagoon, a floating stage for the orchestra that entertained guests each evening.  Not surprisingly, Tonga Room was an instant success.

The Tonga Room features a top-40 band performing from a thatch-covered barge on the lagoon; a dance floor built from the remains of the S.S. Forester, a lumber schooner that once traveled regularly between San Francisco and the South Sea Islands; and periodic light tropical rainstorms, complete with thunder and lightening.

It’s not often that I get to play tourist, and when I do I am most content walking through a city’s neighborhoods and dining where the locals do.  From the sound of things I thought The Tonga Room would be tacky and gimmicky and altogether silly.  As it turned out it was all of those things — in the very best possible sense.  It has also been my experience that kitschy hotel restaurants tend to serve terrible food.  But not tonight.

tonga1We were seated next to the lagoon, and perused the cocktail menu comprised of tropical drinks, all purportedly made with fresh fruit juices.  My Amazing Lover™ ordered a rum punch and I opted for a “Hurricane,” a similar concoction of rum and juices over crushed ice.  What arrived at the table was an enormous and colorful cocktail with a 2-foot long red straw: I had to put the glass next to my chair to sip from it.  It was delicious, refreshing, and not too sweet.  Also:  hilarious.

We couldn’t decide on appetizers, so we settled on a sampler:  vegetable egg rolls, coconut shrimp, chicken satay and BBQ ribs in a Kona coffee glaze.  The platter was served with three sauces: I tasted one drop of the hot mustard and almost cried.  But the soy dip was phenomenal, as were all of the apps.

Okay, then.  Apparently, The Tonga Room is not playing around.

At irregular intervals the fake thunder would roar and the fake lightening would flash, and we would be treated to a tropical rainstorm waxing and waning over the surface of the lagoon.  (There is no sound like gently splashing water.  As a kid I loved the fountains at the local mall more for the sound than their visual theatrics: a paradoxical noisy hush.)

Our entrees arrived — Singapore noodles and Chow Chow chicken — along with another round of those ridiculous cocktails.  We marveled at the large portions glistening in enormous white bowls.  (Next time we’ll split an entree.)  Both dishes were outstanding, full of fresh flavors and perfect textures.

We didn’t stay to see the band play on the floating barge.  Frankly, it would be unlikely to improve the evening.  The Tonga Room is uncommonly good, and a fun place to boot.  Here are some pictures I took on my trusty iPhone while giggling with glee and just generally playing the part of obnoxious tourist.  (Hey, it’s my turn.)

tonga6

tonga2

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tonga6

Fracking @$$holes.

Today in OMFG WE ARE SO FUCKED news, Elizabeth Royte enlightens us with an excellent long piece at The Nation about our food supply in the wake of Big Oil’s fracking juggernaut through millions of acres of previously productive farmland.  In Fracking our Food Supply, we get a glimpse of a dystopian nightmare of blighted landscapes, animals with strange diseases, and once-pristine waterways that no longer freeze in subzero temperatures:

Ever since a heater-treater unit, which separates oil, gas and brine, blew out on a drill pad a half-mile upwind of Schilke’s ranch, her own creek has been clogged with scummy growth, and it regularly burps up methane. “No one can tell me what’s going on,” she says. But since the blowout, her creek has failed to freeze, despite temperatures of forty below. (Testing found sulfate levels of 4,000 parts per million: the EPA’s health goal for sulfate is 250 parts per million.)

Schilke’s troubles began in the summer of 2010, when a crew working at this site continued to force drilling fluid down a well that had sprung a leak. Soon, Schilke’s cattle were limping, with swollen legs and infections. Cows quit producing milk for their calves; they lost from sixty to eighty pounds in a week; and their tails mysteriously dropped off.

Sounds downright evil.  And sure enough, there it is:  that distinctive, noxious stench of sulfur and methane:

By design, secrecy shrouds the hydrofracking process, casting a shadow that extends over consumers’ right to know if their food is safe. Federal loopholes crafted under former Vice President Dick Cheney have exempted energy companies from key provisions of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water Acts, the Toxics Release Inventory, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires a full review of actions that may cause significant environmental impacts.

There’s also a nifty graphic accompanying the article:

Fracking_Farmland_1000px

So far, under considerable public pressure New York governor Andrew Cuomo has held to a temporary ban on fracking in the state, where sustainable and organic farms abound and locavore food and wine culture is thriving.  Unfortunately Mr. Cuomo seems to have grand political ambitions, so my money’s on him flat out caving to these motherfrackers.  You know, like a good Democrat.