Sunday, June 10, 2018

De Gustibus...

Bourdain Confronts Roasted Iguana Tamales ("Cook's Tour" via YouTube)

Long before we knew about “hate-watching,” Michel and I fully embraced the practice when we saw Anthony Bourdain for the first time. We were irretrievably sucked into the gory spectacle of his conflicted consumption of a roasted iguana. This was early “Cook’s Tour” Bourdain in his first television outing, years before he became the Anthony Bourdain of “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown.” We derived a sense of affirmation (with a dollop of schadenfreude) upon reading Jay Rayner’s like-minded book review in The Guardian describing Cook’s Tour as “punctuated by morose and thoroughly tedious diatribes about how awful it is being Anthony Bourdain and, especially, Anthony Bourdain being followed by a television crew.”  This tiresome Tony-the-Iguana-Eater-Bourdain was the wannabe Hunter S. Thompson of food writing. He was looking for a means to capitalize on the success of his gonzo-inspired first book, Kitchen Confidential, wherein the aspiring Bourdain attempted to emulate the iconoclastic success of Thompson’s 1970 exposé, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.”  

Note: The Kentucky Derby is, in fact, decadent and depraved, with drug-addicted jockeys and grooms, gambling-addicted patrons, gluttonous personages and stargazers of all stripes showing up at the track and all over town. And don't get me started about what they do to the actual horses. 

So we followed Mr. Bourdain’s media transitions from gig to gig, all the while being fed a smorgasbord of inane programming from The Travel Channel, The Food Network, etc., featuring humans who eat/drink/inhale unthinkable amounts of anything that won’t kill them on TV. Along the way, we developed an intense dislike for the man we’d never met. We couldn’t handle his jaded, singsong-y delivery nor his pretentious literary asides. We didn’t understand his need to offer pseudo-philosophical commentary or to share his opinions about rock and roll, nor did we understand that weird (drunk) Russian guy who tagged along with him far too often. But—we had to admit to ourselves that, despite our aversions, we agreed with most of the culinary principles Bourdain stood for. 

We liked it when he took on the  made-for-television “celebrity chef” phenomenon, calling out people like Paula Deen for her ridiculous butter bomb recipes and Sandra Lee for her vapidity. We liked it when he poked fun at Ruth Reichl. 

We agreed when he addressed the ugly aspects of the restaurant business, including his recent comments about the #MeToo movement. We liked him for exposing systemic injustices and corruption. Also, he earned our sympathy for stopping short of the grotesque exploits of his “Bizarre Foods” friend and colleague Andrew Zimmern (in our house a/k/a “The Yutz”).  Zimmern’s implausible “If it looks good, eat it!” tagline was a deterrent in and of itself.

We’ve read and watched the tributes pouring in, from former President Obama’s tweet about our collective pop culture loss to some astonishingly personal accounts in the New York Times Letters to the Editor. We have mused over Ruth Reichl’s comments in the Times’ official obituary, wherein she called young Anthony Bourdain “awkward and withdrawn” in his early years and a “tortured shy guy.” (Thanks, Ruth—you can run along now, maybe tweet some more haiku.)

Anthony Bourdain famously said of his success, “I feel like I’ve stolen a car—a really nice car—and I keep looking in the rearview mirror for flashing lights.” Now we are left to wonder what horrors he foresaw through the windshield of his metaphorical stolen car, even as we quietly welcome the change of topic from the regular onslaught of the nightmarish reality that is the U.S. Presidency these days. Yes, we too are victims of the incessant media pileup of all the things we think we want to know about: Mr. Trump, his current wife, his children from serial marriages, his lawyers, and yes, even his blatant and habitual lies. We’re hooked because our lives literally depend on it. 

During one of his interviews, Anthony Bourdain claimed that he wanted to try anything once, as long as the risks involved were manageable. It’s possible he found himself in a situation that put him, especially as a CNN “personality,” in the midst of an adventure with risk factors that neither he nor anyone else could manage. For someone whose celebrity sprang from his exposure to the repulsive underbelly of the culinary establishments of the world, an anti-hero who sometimes relished joining in the scuffle for outcasts and underdogs, Bourdain’s proximity to the fragile cognitive fault line between sanity and madness rendered him just like the rest of us--an outcast, an underling, a victim of the present American circumstance.  President Trump has a zealous determination to prove to the world he is as powerful as the make-believe oligarch in the television commercial—the one with the tiny giraffe—who proclaims, “Opulence, I has it.”

Could it be that this tsunami of grandiose tastelessness wrought by the leader of the free world is what ultimately compelled not only Anthony Bourdain to end his life but all the other nameless suicide victims being tracked by experts in the field? Is it possible to draw a direct line from today’s news headlines to the increasing number of suicides in the U.S.? Americans who are far less visible than Mr. Bourdain are drinking lead-poisoned water while citizens of color are ignored in times of desperate need. Funding for children’s healthcare is under attack while many of our “elected representatives” are busy looking for the next handout from corporate lobbyists. Our life-giving planet is in terrible distress, threatening our very existence. Depressing? Hell, yes.

It’s not hard to visualize Anthony Bourdain in a very old and exclusive French hotel, preparing for yet another CNN “Parts Unknown” episode near the town of Strasbourg. What caused him such deep despair? Did he dread filming the force-feeding of the geese that keep the Alsace pate fois gras industry alive? Was he overcome with the futility, monotony, and loneliness of constant travel? Or had life become an unmanageable adventure spun out of control? How else could anyone be so utterly despondent in such an idyllic place? He posted food pictures from his stay in the village of Kaysersberg on social media within hours before the breaking news about his suicide. 

We secretly wonder how he did it. Did he have a Hunter S. Thompson obsession about needing to know he could commit suicide at any moment? Bourdain clearly imitated the original gonzo journalist (a Louisville native, by the way), perhaps too much.  Among the things the two men had in common was their worldview of so-called Positive Nihilism. It’s a term that’s new to this writer but an uncannily apt way of describing our dodge-the-wrecking-ball lives these days, succinctly summarized in text-speak: LOL nothing matters.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Know Your Arithmetic: Cauliflower “Risotto” with Brussels Sprouts, Artichoke Hearts, and Mushrooms

Michel's Cauliflower Risotto with Brussels Sprouts, Artichoke Hearts, and Mushrooms

Here we are at the start of a new year. Now what?

It’s no small feat that the world survived 2017 with its record-breaking natural disasters and numerous man-made crises, not to mention the anxiety-induced stress eating we engaged in here on Planet Earth as we helplessly watched the events unfolding.

Comfort food, anyone? Mac and cheese? Pizza? Warm pecan pie a la mode?
Tina Fey pretty much summed it up for us in this Saturday Night Live sketch:

Through it all, Michel has maintained his habitually unflinching outlook (maybe because he’s still a Dutch citizen—just sayin’—or he’s a quintessential Taurus). He continues to invent deliciously healthful dishes and he sees to it that we go to the gym a few days a week. 

Moreover, he also prefers that we actually work out while at the gym, unlike the guys who smell from cigarettes and spend considerable time gabbing/texting as they stand beside the weight racks or perhaps a certain reluctant white-haired female who suffered ninth grade PE class PTSD from having to wear a short red (scratchy) jumpsuit with her name across the back while trying to dodge flying objects because she lacked the ability to catch anything. 

It’s not for nothing that the term “gym-timidation” has been employed by advertisers to assuage the fears of prospective new members, especially when the new year rolls around. 
Photo: Planet Fitness

Michel’s ability to exert self-discipline isn’t limited to exercise and nutrition. He practices the violin at least 3-4 hours a day and spends countless hours every week researching instruments and bows while fielding calls from colleagues in the violin business in the U.S. and elsewhere. It’s a remarkable thing to witness. Enviable, even.

This new recipe is the latest example of his ongoing quest for good food and his intuitive approach to cooking. To most of us, a plastic bag of cauliflower “pearls” might look like the world’s saddest salad ingredient. What does Michel see? A lean and nutritious substitute for risotto.

Traditional Mushroom Risotto:

A side of traditional mushroom risotto with its gooey, starchy goodness will set you back about 450 calories if prepared with Arborio rice, wine, butter, etc. You can do your own math to figure out what an entrée portion would amount to. I prefer to follow Scarlett O’Hara’s plan to “think about it tomorrow” (pronounced tuhmarruh) on the rare occasions I choose a risotto entrée. Also, I don’t understand “fancy” restaurant pricing of risotto dishes. It’s rice. Rice is cheap. Throw in a few mushrooms or whatever and it’s still not a $30 dish.  

Even if you were to consume a "yuuuge" amount of Michel’s version you will rack up fewer than 150 calories. Here’s the breakdown from Google:
1 cup sprouts = 38 calories
1 cup artichokes = 60 calories
1 cup mushrooms = 19 calories
1 cup cauliflower = 33 calories

That’s roughly 150 calories for four cups of veggies—and that’s a LOT of veggies, not to mention all of the Vitamins C and K, folate, potassium, etc., you’re ingesting. You’re saving about 300 calories vs. traditional risotto; that’s 300 calories you can use for something less healthful, like, I dunno, half of a Starbucks Venti Toasted White Chocolate Mocha. Just a thought.

Time to put aside holiday indulgences and cook something fast and simple.

You will need:

1 small package of dried porcini mushrooms, rehydrated  

1 8-ounce package of crimini mushrooms, sliced

1 pound of Brussels sprouts, cut into lengthwise halves  

1 16-ounce package of cauliflower pearls

5 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 heaping teaspoon of capers w/brine
1 teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 6-ounce package of grilled artichoke hearts

Ready to cook? 

Steam sprouts for 3-4 minutes. 

Chop rehydrated porcini mushrooms.

Add olive oil to wok or your favorite large skillet.

Sauté porcini pieces and crimini slices until they start browning.

Add chopped garlic and continue cooking until mushrooms are fully browned.

Add brined capers, cauliflower pearls, grilled artichoke hearts, steamed sprout halves, and salt/pepper.

Cook for 5-8 minutes to allow ingredients to get well acquainted, i.e., thoroughly heated.

Give yourself a big pat on the back for preparing a healthful meal to start your new year.