Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

La Revanche, Peut-Être?
May 14, 2016

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What in the hell have I been up to?

A lot of time spent staring vacantly into the middle distance, admittedly, but also we turned a pig inside out back in January, which got me thinking again / more about different schools of butchery (which grossly could be lumped into primal cuts v. ‘following the natural lines’) and whether there is a productive line of analogy to be followed between historical anatomy in the ‘the body dissected for organs contains organs, the body dissected for humours contains humours’ way (who was that? Haraway? Daston and Galison? help me out, nerds) and butchery traditions, ie: do different schools of butchery produce different animal bodies? Have different historical anatomies produced different ‘natural lines’ for butchers to follow, or (more surprisingly, perhaps?) have these forms of craftwork proceeded apace but apart?

I also got terrible food poisoning in France, ate oysters fresh out of a loch on the North end of Islay, and drank a 47 year old white wine from the ultime thule of Portugal, made from hundred(s?) year old vines trained along the baking sand to be lashed by ocean winds, that tasted very much like a delicate tangle of matter and ghost. Or, as my friend James suggested, like orange peels and old bones.

Which brings me to this other thing, which is that this summer I am running the wine list at Bar Alexandraplatz in Mtl, and will be doing my best to sneak in interesting and out-of-left-field bottles amidst the easy sippers and too-easy rippers, so you should come by sometime if you live, or happen to be, in Montreal. This coming Wednesday especially. 

Also I’ve got a new book in the works with Invisible, that I am lashing into shape with John Semley as my editor, who is great and loves beef and hates Shrek and we accidentally ordered a bunch of cold wet calf brains and a cold soup(?) of fat, white, already-shucked oysters in their liquor in a literal clown’s bar as a celebration of having survived our shared, aforementioned terrible food poisoning. Due out in 2017.

More news as events warrant.

(oh, also I’m instagram now, @bitteringagent. It is pretty much what you would expect.)

Bar Rescue, Taste, and Some Other Stuff.
August 11, 2015

My buddy Ed writing about Bar Rescue the way I like to see not-important things written about. Which is to say volubly and with lots of allusions.

http://petrenkorp.com/downwithpeople/your-money-or-your-life-bar-rescue-piratz-tavern-and-the-case-of-irredeemable-money/

SMALL SECRETS x BAR BARBARA
February 14, 2015

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A heads-up to all you frozen, misfortuned Montreal-dwellers that tomorrow evening I’m co-hosting an event for Restaurant Day (which is apparently a thing) where, instead of bothering much at all with the food aspect of things, we’re just going to pour a bunch of cool wines we like. In other words, we are opening a one-night-only quasi-legal (read: not legal) popup wine bar. We’ll have a small selection of natural, biodynamic, and otherwise interesting wines. Sourced from the SAQ and private importation and priced just above cost, in the interests of relative accessibility and the hopes of piquing curiosities or even, I dare say, inciting passions by exposing folks to some wines they might not otherwise encounter in the daily run of things. Expect a casual, convivial atmosphere, good jams, lots of Jura, occasional outbursts of wine prattle.

when: 6pm-1am
where: 33 ave Shamrock (note: this is an apt, so wear presentable socks)
facebook.

Do stop by for a drink or seven. There will be light snacks afoot.

A Rare Moment of Breviloquence.
January 29, 2015

This is me.

 

(As interpreted by Merida Anderson.)

To Your (Spiritual) Health.
January 8, 2015

Admittedly I would drink this wine for my health. It tastes like fruit.

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If any of you are regular readers of The Guardian (I am not), or spend a much reading about the politics of clinical trials (which I do), you have probably heard of Ben Goldacre. He writes well, has a quick wit, and while I find the rhetoric of his crusade against “bad science” sort of frustrating and tiresome, I can’t help feeling a sense of kinship with someone I see as a fellow complicator. He at times can come across as a typically smug scientific triumphalist, but he is nevertheless no stranger to the complexities of evidence-production. He is also a driving force behind the AllTrials Campaign, which has been advocating – with surprising success – for a research culture/infrastructure that would ensure that all clinical trials (studies on drugs, devices, other medical treatments) centrally register and fully report their methods and results, something which does not yet exist in any meaningful way, and is undeniably essential for medical-scientific research to become more transparent and accountable (In a nutshell, the prevailing tendency, when you are conducting multi-million-dollar clinical trial with hundreds or thousands of participants and you don’t get the results you were hoping for, is to mine the  data for something usable and change the stated objectives of the trial accordingly, or, more commonly, to just not publish and never talk about it again. Although the evidence is mixed as to whether this is especially common for industry-sponsored studies, there is no question that pharmaceutical companies have a lot riding on the results of the studies on their own products that they conduct or pay for).

Anyway, he comes to mind because it is apparently “a new year” and so chatter about resolutions and getting healthy and the care of the self and all that has now risen to a fever pitch. As someone who has perpetually (perhaps cyclically?) miserable health and for whom nothing in particular in the way of diet or exercise or homeopathic hoozlewazzle has ever made any difference, and who has by profession become rather intimate with the maelstrom of contingencies, fine-tunings, and epistemically rationalized fudgings that undergird the production of scientific knowledge, I find the cycle of everything-bad-is-good-for-you / everything-good-is-bad-for-you that often provides the fodder for such resolutions pretty obnoxious. In respect to this, it was nice to stumble across this article of Goldacre’s from around Christmastime a few years back wherein he takes lightly to task the kind of research (and subsequent marketing) that supposes to justify such things as chocolate and red wine consumption:

Moderate red wine drinkers, we are specifically informed, come out better on all kinds of health measures, and nobody wants to ruin Christmas by mentioning confounding variables again (like how moderate red wine drinkers hang out at home with their friends eating salad and talking about their posh jobs and stable social support). A fairytale science story must be simple, reductionist, and mechanistic. Red wine is good for you because it contains lifegiving molecules, like antioxidants. And nobody wants to spoil Christmas—for the whole family—by mentioning that the antioxidants story is one of the great unspoken non-starters of 20th century medical research. . . . Only a malevolent Scrooge-like figure, mumbling over his glass of tap water in the corner, would dare to point out that if you are going to pore over a biochemistry textbook, and pick pathways out at random, then you can prove anything you like.
. . .
And that’s when you might start to think, well now, perhaps people who eat fresh fruit and vegetables are, just like the people who drink red wine in decorous moderation, living healthily in all kinds of ways. Much like the people who buy vitamin pills. Lusty walks around country mansions. Cycling to work. That kind of thing.

The piece is flippant and short on actual citations, but it is meant to be – most anyone who has a subscription to the BMJ can probably search out what they need – and it is a well-needed intervention, as much so in 2015 as it was in 2007 (One needs only look to this Christmas headline from L’Express: “Le vin rouge prévient du vieillissement, c’est scientifiquement prouvé,” which cites a recent paper in Nature that turns out to have nothing specifically to do with red wine, or even with human beings). While Goldacre’s piece is more about marketing and bad science journalism (or science-indifferent health journalism), by ending on an implied note of ‘Just drink it, goddammit’, it also hints at something that I find all the more noxious about the whole phenomenon.

That is, the normalization of a moral economy wherein such things as chocolate and wine need to be justified by their ostensible health benefits – guilty pleasures redeemed, while the structure of spiritual blackmail remains perfectly intact. It is an economy wherein our health and the maintaining thereof take on a personal moral valence – the individual sits at the centre of a constellation of ‘lifestyle choices’ and the story of their good works are believed to be writ on and in the body, like a modern day collapse of the portrait of Dorian Gray. If you will pardon my hyperbole, at its worst this facilitates the blaming of the disease-ridden poor for not exercising and eating too many Junior Bacon Cheeseburgers; at its less extreme it still constitutes the selling of our pleasures back to us as (health) virtues. That is a calculation I don’t much care for. If you are going to drink and gourmandize and gorge at least do so because it is the stuff of life, not because it is supposed to hold out the promise – not even the promise! only a probabilistic, anonymous, statistical implication – of some extension of your otherwise miserable existence. Or, if you are going to lard yourself and your drinking in quasi-medical justifications, at least have the good aesthetic sense to go grander; do so on the basis of old-wives’ tales, epigrams from doomed novelists, the doctrine of signatures or just to keep your damn skeleton in.

Two Trick Pony.
December 18, 2014

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Not food-related, but just FYI, my friend Simon and I have a cover story in the new issue of Harper’s. It’s a short piece about OxyContin, regulatory gamesmanship, and the FDA, with just the tiniest bit of background on the tangled co-emergence of chronic pain as a major clinical object and the marketing of opioid painkillers. I was really angling for a less sensational tag line, but you can’t win ’em all. Available for subscribers now, I think it’ll hit the shelves early in the new year. I’d like to claim this was what I was working on the past few months, while -not- updating the blog, but in actuality I have been drinking wine and watching Futurama. 

A Motherfucking Triumph of Goddamn Simplicity.
July 18, 2014

Radish biscuit, radish butter, radishes. Repeat.

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There is something about radishes. Radishes and butter are such an indisputable French classic that it should seem tiresome and doltishly obvious to draw attention to them, yet whenever I come across an entry for radishes and butter in a cookbook, I am not annoyed by the laziness and pretence of the author claiming that this somehow constitutes a “recipe”. Rather, I take it more as a gesture – a reminder, to the reader, in case he or she has forgotten; and a gesture of appreciation, the devotion of the space on a page to something so simple, yet so unstoppable.

Vin Papillon has been doing this radish biscuit with radish-green butter and radishes this season, and it is nuts. I am not embarrassed to say that I am impressed. Radish butter. Duh.

 

Who Lives?
June 11, 2014

I mean, it -could- be a Negroni. I really don't recall.

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Embarrassing as it is to acknowledge, this “Death to Negronis” piece reads exactly as if I had written it, right down to the author wrapping up his tirade against lazy, pretentious historicizing with a slyly bet-hedging ‘This is Stupid, But Drink it Because it’s Good, or Drink Something Else, Literally Anything Else, Also Shut Up.’

It does little to allay the ever-present temptation to let this blog just slide entirely into the mire, because seriously, do we really need one more food blog, one more jackass delving into the historical and technical minutiae of food and food culture? It is not a rhetorical question; the answer is No.

And yet I persist. And I still love the Negroni. And odds are, unless the angel of history all of a sudden begins to beat back the winds that pile wreckage upon wreckage at his feet, in the ongoing single catastrophe that is human civilization, I will probably talk about the Negroni again; I make no guarantee that you won’t be subjected to my enthusiasm at finding a perfect half-measure amaro substitution for the Campari, or just the gin that makes the difference.

Because, in the immortal words of Buzz Gunderson, you’ve gotta do something.

An Historical Aside on Amphorae.
January 19, 2014

Whitewashed ribbed amphorae for oil or wine, almost the size of those dug up in the palace of Minos, stood by many a doorway. Once more I wondered how these immense vessels were made. They are obviously too big for any potter smaller than a titan with arms two yards long. As usual, theories abound. Some say a man gets inside the incipient jar like a robber in the Arabian Nights, and builds up the expanding and tapering walls as they rotate on a great wheel; some, that the halves are constructed separately and then put together; others that they are cast in huge moulds; yet others assert that they are built up from a rope of clay that is paid out in an expanding and then a contracting coil until the final circle of the rim is complete; which is made to account for the ribs and the fluting that gird them from top to bottom. I had heard, all over Greece, that they came from Coroni in the Messenian peninsula, only the other side of the gulf. It was strange that, even here, there should be such a conflict of solutions. There were only four men in the little group I asked among the beached fishing boats. If there had been more, no doubt the total of solutions would have risen accordingly.

I have been to Coroni since, and I now own one of those stupendous vessels. ‘We build them bit by bit, from the bottom,’ the potter said, ‘just as a swallow builds its nest.’

– Patrick Leigh Fermor, Mani (1958)

Inexplicably, I have not yet written on Patrick Leigh Fermor, despite the fact that there has for the past year inevitably been to be found on my bedside table some or other book of his, perhaps picked up only sporadically, but read in bursts of avid pleasure. There has been a fair amount of buzz about Fermor lately (perhaps more in the British than the North American lit press) because the final instalment of his technically still-unfinished trilogy documenting his trek by foot from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul/Constantinople in 1933-1934 was just posthumously released. Consequently there is no shortage of profiles that do greater justice to the details of this life than I ever would. You should read them. Better still, you should read -him-.

I am not typically a fan of travel literature, nor of memoir, but like Maugham’s The Gentleman in the Parlour, Waugh’s When the Going Was Goodand parts of Greene’s Ways of Escape (and much of MFK Fisher, come to think of it, and to think of someone who is not a dead white British man), Fermor’s work captures something special. The first two books of his trilogy, A Time of Gifts, and Between the Woods and the Water are tremendously engaging. His writing is dizzyingly prolix, but usually in the best and dare I say shit-eatingest sense of the word (and in the best sense of the term “shit-eating,” for that matter). Purple but without pretence. Almost too much, or perhaps just too much enough. It may depend on one’s taste. But there is a vital quality to all of Fermor’s prose, it animates his material in an irresistible fashion – I am inclined to say that it speaks to one’s blood, if one remembers that blood flows equally to the brain as to the heart and the stomach.

The quote above only hints at this quality, but it caught my eye since I’d been thinking about kvevri (hence amphora, although kvevri are cooler because they bury them in the goddamn ground) recently. But just wait until I track down that passage about getting wasted in Schwabing, you’ll be in for a treat.

 

In Bocca alla Lupa
December 30, 2013

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Mindful as I am of the fact that it has been a month and a half since I have written anything about solid food, I nevertheless need to tell you about this cocktail, because I started drinking it in the summer, and only through some  diligent brain-wracking abetted finally by a spark of inspiration was I able to come up with a means by which to re-associate it with Christmas and thus reinvigorate its by now several-months-expired topicality. The origin of the drink must be traced back to what at Joe Beef they call the “Roman Coke”, the recipe for which is given as 3/4 oz grappa and a splash of Fernet Branca topped up in a highball glass with ice and chinotto, the italian bitter orange¹ soft drink best known to Canadians in the form of Brio. I encountered this drink while indulging my typically obnoxious practice of, when anywhere that anyone appears to care about cocktails, asking if they do anything with Fernet, because it is just such a great bastard of an ingredient, and I take equal satisfaction in the response Yes We Do And You Should Have One Because It Is Awesome as in No You Just Drink It Why Don’t You Shut Up And Just Drink It. Initially upon receiving the Roman Coke I was pretty underwhelmed, in part because it (the restaurant) was loud and confusing and the server didn’t seem to know what it (the drink) was and it (the drink again) just seemed to taste like a Fernet & Coke, which is all well and good and a respectable drink in its own right but I’m not noway paying 11$ for one. Or Whatever.

But by the time the thing was mostly consumed, we realized that there was something else going on it, something intriguing, and so when the opportunity presented itself I inquired what was behind the thing and was informed as to its constitution. Now, the Roman Coke is a heck of a drink, but it is truly more of a summertime ripper, a tall drink, and in the interim since this first experience I have been screwing around with it a bit and have come up with something slightly more to my tastes, which is roughly a 1:1 fernet-grappa ratio, still topped up with chinotto but served in a rocks glass with a good hunk of ice and some manner of citrus zest to your taste (I advise orange, but grapefruit is nice in the summer). This is a somewhat different beast, and it demands further specification – in The Art of Living According To Joe Beef, they specify cheap grappa, because when you’re filling a glass with pop there’s no point in squandering one of any quality. I have found however that with this short drink ratio, the quality of the grappa matters considerably more, which is not to say that you need to use truly good grappa, but that I distinguished a real and lamentable difference between the De Negri Monovitigno di Prosecco and the standard Poli Bassano. In fact, the price difference is negligible, but the Poli mingles beautifully into the whole, whereas the De Negri retains a pronounced and unfortunate paint-thinning presence in spite of the robustness of the other ingredients. I would further specify San Pellegrino chinatto over Brio, because it’s just better. Deeper, darker, richer, bitterer, better.

Roman Coke might be a clever name, but it is not a great one, and I was pleased by the opportunity my tinkering afforded to come up with a new name. Less fortunately, this has turned out to be surprisingly difficult. I was looking for something that captured the wholly Italian composition of the drink, but still which said something about how it comes across in the mouth, or as it begins to wash the brain. My friend Matteo suggested  the Bocca della Lupa, which translates into “the mouth of the she-wolf”, invoking with a sly Capitoline Wolf reference its Roman predecessor, and deriving from an Italian expression in bocca al lupo (“into the mouth of the wolf”) which basically means to go for broke, or just fuckin’ give ‘er. He further clarified that “It’s often incorrectly translated as ‘good luck,’ but it’s ‘good luck’ meant with an ironic twist – “You’re fucking nuts, it probably won’t work, but good luck”.” Which is fucking great, obviously, but I felt that in the oafish mouth of the English speaker, Bocca della Lupa might lose some of its musicality and become the sort of name that, paradoxically, can only be uttered intelligibly when waaay into one’s cups, when one is laboriously emphasizing each syllable individually.

When more recently I was attempting to lend the name a little holiday flare, I touched briefly upon La Vigilia Buio, which translates roughly as “dark vigil,” but specifically invokes which is the Italian Christmas eve feast, La Vigilia. Thus giving the whole thing a slightly macabre, Rosemary’s Baby-esque feel that I appreciate, but not sufficiently to insist on a name that suffers the same complications in pronunciation as the Bocca Della Lupa. Then, just a few days ago, in the midst of much thinking on and drinking of the cocktail, I was reminded that was is special about the thing, what caught me from the very get-go, is that little alchemical miracle by which out of the almost coniferous medicinal bitterness of Fernet, the spirited, vinous intensity of the grappa, and the not very-much-like-oranges herby cola quality of chinotto, you get something that tastes hauntingly like -chocolate– (and not, thankfully, like mouthwash). So you have what? Chocolate? Oranges? Christmas?

Behold, the Amaro Terry.²

Maybe?

¹ Specifically Citrus aurantium var. myrtifolia, if you’re interested, which is the same variety of bitter orange used in Campari and a number of other amari but not, apparently, in Barolo chinato in spite of them tasting so reminiscent of one another. 

² In case you don’t get it. Get it?