Tastes Like Plagiarism!

From the union of two of the most unlikely news sources in the world — The Bulletin (an alt-weekly out of Montgomery County, Texas) and Slate (a hugely popular online magazine out of Washington, D.C.) — comes a fascinating story of plagiarism and deception that’s only beginning to unravel.

If you want to catch the entire story from the very beginning, check out this Slate piece, published yesterday by music writer Jody Rosen: Dude, You Stole My Article.  Capsule format: Rosen discovered through an anonymous email that the “music writer” for The Bulletin had been cribbing his articles — sometimes changing a word or two — and then passing them off as original material.  When he dug deeper, Rosen found that the “music writer” had been doing the same thing with other published material from other music writers for years.  When Rosen attempted to contact The Bulletin to inform the “editor” of the situation, then things really got crazy…

Our very own Alison Cook — a food writer for the Houston Chronicle, just in case you’re not local — caught the Slate article almost as soon as it came out and was intrigued.  She did a little digging of her own into past Bulletin issues and soon found that it wasn’t just music articles that were being plagiarized; food articles were, too.

Which food articles were the result of outright theft?  From whom did The Bulletin lift their material?  None other than the reigning king of Tex-Mex, local author and Houston Press food writer Robb Walsh.  Read Alison’s entire article about it here: Barbecue & plagiarism at Montgomery County’s Bulletin.

Some might say, “Hey, it’s a free publication.  They aren’t hurting anyone.”  Bullshit.  It may be a free publication, distributed in dimly-lit bank lobbies and dirty Jiffy Lubes throughout the bustling metropolii of Conroe and New Caney, but they’re selling ad space.  They’re generating revenue.  And they’re making money off material that isn’t theirs to make money off of.  Someone else busted their ass to create those articles, and some disingenuous asshole comes along, steals it, and passes it off as his own.  It’s no different than stealing someone’s credit card number and buying a plasma TV: it isn’t yours, you can’t use it for profit!

One can only imagine what bizarre twists the story will take from here.  I’m placing bets right now, though, that “music writer” Mark Williams doesn’t really exist at all, and that the entire publication is run by the shady editor, “Mike Ladyman,” who I imagine also runs the sales desk and the distribution/circulation desk.

Anyone want to start placing their bets on how many more publications The Bulletin has plagiarized?  The over/under is at a clean 100 right now…

A Side Order of Contempt

I can’t decide which is funnier: some of the ludicrous suggestions made for eating “smart when dining out” in this Reader’s Digest article:

Above all else, be assertive. Dining out is no time to be a meek consumer, notes Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and coauthor of the book Restaurant Confidential. “You need to be an assertive consumer by asking for changes on the menu,” he says. For instance, if an item is fried, ask for it grilled. If it comes with french fries, ask for a side of veggies instead. Ask for a smaller portion of the meat and a larger portion of the salad; for salad instead of coleslaw; baked potato instead of fried. “Just assume you can have the food prepared the way you want it,” says Dr. Jacobson. “Very often, the restaurant will cooperate.” Below, you’ll find more specific requests.

Try double appetizers. If there is a nice selection of seafood- and vegetable-based appetizers, consider skipping the entrée and having two appetizers for your meal. Often, that is more than enough food to fill you up.

Ask your waiter to “triple the vegetables, please.” Often a side of vegetables in a restaurant is really like garnish — a carrot and a forkful of squash. When ordering, ask for three or four times the normal serving of veggies, and offer to pay extra. “I’ve never been charged,” says dietitian Jeff Novick, R.D., director of nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa in Aventura, Florida. “And I’ve never been disappointed. I get full, not fat.”

Or the comments section on the article at Consumerist:

Not a great idea–most midrange restaurants, and chains, are not equipped for such customization. All you’ll do is annoy the kitchen.  And I don’t want to eat food prepared by annoyed people…

yea i was thinking this person must love eating spit 🙂

What afrix and Skankingmike said. The number one rule for healthy restaurant dining is “Don’t piss off the staff.” This guy’s first order of business seems to be to violate that rule.

assertive vs. polite maybe, but he said assertive. After working in the service industry assertive usually means being a dick.

How arrogant to go in and to assume you can change everything that is offered. Unless you have a food allergy there is no reason to do this. (and even then, you should explain why you need something left out of your dish. ) Order whats offered or find a place that suits your diet.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO EAT EVERYTHING that’s on your plate. Who knew???

I just order stuff on the menu that looks good to me and that I want to eat. If there is something on the plate I don’t like then I don’t eat it. But then I grew up in a house where I was told that I could make myself a sandwich if I didn’t like what the family was eating.

Those of you who know me know how I am at restaurants…I eat what’s offered, never ask for substitutions and have never sent anything back in my life.  But I’ve also worked in the service industry and have many friends who currently work in the industry.  It ain’t easy, so why make the meal difficult for both of you?  Just relax and enjoy your meal is my philosophy, at least.

However, when I see a server being either lazy or incompetent for no good reason, that’s when the claws come out; if you aren’t in the weeds and we’re your only table for days, fill my damned iced tea and take my order within at least the first fifteen minutes of us being seated or prepare yourself for a shoddy 10% tip.

What do you think, readers?  Are you “assertive” at restaurants?  Does it net you good service (that you’re aware of, at least?)?  Or do you follow the “eat what’s on your plate or find a healthy restaurant” approach?  Is my 10% tip for crappy service policy too draconian or too lax?

A Little Fecal Bacteria With Your Tomatoes, Sir?

As if you needed yet another reason to patronize your local, organic market:

Houston grocers pull tomatoes over salmonella alert

You know where they are folks, now start shopping local!  It’s better for you, the environment AND your pocketbook.  Or better yet: start a victory garden!

The Breadipus Effect

“If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” — Robert K. Merton

Fearmongering?  Or yet another sign of the times?  From the pages of today’s New York Sun, we find the following article:

Food Rationing Confronts Breadbasket Of The World

Major retailers in New York, in areas of New England, and on the West Coast are limiting purchases of flour, rice, and cooking oil as demand outstrips supply. There are also anecdotal reports that some consumers are hoarding grain stocks.

I can provide one of those anecdotal reports, come to think of it.  My colleague’s family (specifically, her parents from the Old Country) has taken to stockpiling bags of rice as a hedge against future shortages.  She came home from work the other night to find that her parents had piled fifteen bags of rice in the garage.

“Where did you get all this rice?  And why?” she asked, incredulous.

“Don’t you pay attention to news?  Rice will be gone soon!” they answered indignently.  “We save up now!”

“But fifteen bags?  It takes us, like, two months just to get through one.  You’ve bought two and half years’ worth of rice, Mom.  Really.”

“You’ll thank us when all your other friends are complaining they have no food!  You’ll thank us when everyone coming to you saying, ‘You so smart to buy rice when you still can!'”

To me, this story doesn’t say “ZOMG, we’re all running out of food tomorrow!!!!11!1!  Must stockpile cans of soup!!!!” as much as it says “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Which brings me to ask the question: are we really, truly, honestly facing the prospect of Soviet-style bread lines, as The Independent erroneously tried to lead people to believe earlier this year?  Or is this simply another scare tactic employed by the media to sell more papers and generate more interest in the doom-and-gloom, apocalyptic scenarios that people have always so readily bought into?

Your call…

…and KUDOS to you if you caught that pun in the headline.  We’re officially best friends now.  Just FYI.

Fresh Tortillas

The Houston Press had a wonderful article recently on the head tortilla-maker at the original Ninfa’s on Navigation.  In the article, Linda Leseman interviews the tortilla-maker, Maria, and attempts to discover Maria’s secrets while learning to make tortillas herself during a low-volume shift at the normally packed restaurant.  The article is both touching and hilarious:

Juan explains in Spanish to Maria. She nods. I have already washed my hands at the nearby sink, so I plunge into the trough and attempt to produce a ball of dough that is roughly the right size. Maria weighs it in her hand against the balls she has created. Mine is a little too big. The official weight for fajita tortillas is 1 ¼ ounces. Tacos are larger: 2 ¼ ounces. Heath Beeman leans over my shoulder.

“You know,” he says, “if you were to weigh each one of those,” indicating the balls produced by Maria, “they would all weigh exactly the same.”

I am beginning to understand the magic of Maria Lagunas’s hands.

It’s also comforting to know that at least one other person shares my innate fear of the griddle:

I am instructed to toss my tortilla onto the griddle, where another woman is monitoring it with a spatula. I find this unnerving. Something tells me that the sizzling griddle will jump out and attack me if I stand too close, so I toss my tortilla onto it from a few feet away. Maria and the other woman are laughing. If only they knew the disasters I have caused in my own kitchen.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to taste fresh, handmade flour tortillas — and you’re only purchasing the doughy, pasty, nasty, mass-produced, pre-bagged kind for sale in your grocery store, you do NOT know what you’re missing.  Fresh tortillas taste intimate and familial; all of the ingredients combine to produce a feeling of immense comfort and satisfaction.  The warm tortillas melt in your mouth, leaving behind only scant traces of flour and shortening, the tastes of home.

The good news is that you can make tortillas yourself, in your own house.  Trust me.  You can.  Even I can make tortillas, with my clumsy hands and fear of hot surfaces.  And once you’ve made a batch of tortillas yourself, at home, you’ll never want the store-bought kind again.

One of the best tortilla recipes to date can be found in Robb Walsh’s inimitable book, The Tex-Mex Cookbook.  Walsh is, coincidentally, the restaurant critic for the Houston Press.  What can I say?  We know our Tex-Mex around here.

I won’t publish the tortilla recipe here; you’ll just have to go and check out Walsh’s book for yourself.  In addition to being a great cookbook, it’s an entertaining and well-researched history of Tex-Mex cuisine and culture.

However, if you just can’t wait, another great recipe can be found here at Texas Rolling Pins: Flour Tortillas (de Mi Abuelita Elvira Gonzalez Leal).

Happy eating!

Farmers’ Market

Before you read this post, please take some time and read this thought-provoking, insightful and worrisome Op-Ed piece from this weekend’s edition of the New York Times, My Forbidden Fruits (and Vegetables), and remember one thing:  the moment that you start taking money from a governmental organization, you’ve given up a small piece of your freedom.  Farm subsidies and the ensuing restrictions are just one of the many problems associated with allowing the government to manage and interfere with peoples’ lives on such an intrusive level.

******************************

Okay, that said, on to the pictures:

Favor de no mayugarlos
“Please don’t squeeze the avocados!”  Augh!  But they’re so squeezable!

My mother and I went to the giant Farmers’ Market on Airline this past Saturday.  We stocked up on produce for the week, she for her clients (my mother is a professional chef, but cooks for private clients only) and me for my bewildered husband and I to eat.  Husband: “What’s a pomelo?  Did you really buy five pounds of oranges??”

Nadia vende mas barato
It’s true!

Needless to say, speaking Spanish is very useful if you’re shopping at the market on Airline.  However, for those Spanish-challenged Houstonians, some of the signs are helpfully translated for you.

Pozole?
Want to make some pozole? Start here.

The sheer quantity of dried goods sold at the market could fill the Goodyear Blimp twice over.  They even sell real cinnamon, not just dried cassia.

Habaneros, Front & Center
Hot, hot, hot.

Every stand had at least one enormous box of habañero peppers for sale.  They looked like little nuggets of gold panned from a stream.

Mole!
Mole!

Don’t have time to make mole from scratch? Don’t fret; you can buy it premade here. And it’s good.

Giant Carrots
Egads!

The market also sells some of the largest, beefiest carrots known to man. They make your storebought carrots look puny and sad by comparison.

Fresh Eggs
I like the brown ones.

In the mood for fresh eggs? You can find any size, shape and color egg that your little heart desires at the market’s Egg House. It’s a giant, walk-in cooler the size of a mobile home that houses beautiful, fresh eggs from floor to ceiling. Just grab a carton and fill it up.

After walking around for a good hour, and purchasing three giant boxes of food and produce for paltry $45, total (including beets, watercress, potatoes, 10-15 onions, cornmeal, avocados, bananas, pineapple, pears, apples, leeks, spinach, cabbage, okra, dill, various oranges, eggplant, spaghetti squash, honey, strawberries, etc.) we headed next door to El Bolillo, a panaderia that’s just as popular as el gran mercado on Saturday mornings. Continue reading Farmers’ Market

Food + Politics

Note:  This article in no way endorses any candidate or political party.  For purposes of this blog, you may consider me entirely politically neutral.  I am the Switzerland of politics.  …here, at least.

It goes without saying that food can be a political tool or an unscientific measure of someone’s political leanings.

Wine and champagne loosen money clips at fundraising galas, while enterprising pollsters set up homemade voting booths in their garages, complete with coffee and brownies for voters.  Meanwhile, people across the nation make broad and asinine assumptions about a person’s political viewpoint based upon what they do or do not eat.  A sushi eater?  A Bordeaux connoisseur?  Must be a Democrat.  He drinks Pearl in a can?  She likes brisket?  Must be a Republican.

Food has an enormous impact on every other area of our lives.  Why not our politics?  The insightful and witty ella over at From Scratch regularly mixes food and politics on her blog with entertaining and interesting results.  And today, courtesy of Houston TV personality Isiah Carey, we encounter a new intersection of food and politics: Wine Drinkers for Obama.  Isiah writes:

I’ve seen Women for Obama, Teens for Obama, Lesbians for Obama, Houston Professionals for Obama, Seniors for Obama, Obama for Obama but I was a bit surprised to find ‘Wine Drinkers for Obama.’ That’s right, apparently a group of wine drinkers who meet periodically in Houston have formed a political group to support Barack Obama.

Interestingly enough, it doesn’t seem that Mr. Obama really needs support from the wine drinkers of the nation, in light of this recent article in The Nation:

In crude political terms, Obama won the “wine track” and lost the “beer track.” That didn’t happen in Iowa.

Obama’s attracted a great many Democrats, liberal and centrist, who want an alternative to Clinton. But if Obama wants to prevail beyond New Hampshire, he needs to get the beer track back.

Perhaps some ambitious beer-drinkers out there need to create a “Beer Drinkers for Obama” support group.  Or, if they’re of the Hilary Clinton persuasion, perhaps a “Wine Drinkers for Clinton” group is more in order than a “Wine Drinkers for Obama” group.  It would appear that — for now — he has that contingent well-covered.

In the meantime, if you live in Houston and happen to be both an Obama supporter and a wine drinker, “Wine Drinkers for Obama” will be meeting tonight (February 27th) at 6pm at that foodie mecca, Central Market.  More details can be found here.

Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me…

…I guess I’ll go eat worms.

Or, at least, that’s what the author of this article from The Huffington Post would suggest.

In the vast world of environmentalism, hybrid cars and bicycle lanes are to transportation what bugs and roadkill are to food — the great answers to the problem of finding sustainable energy for moving our bodies.

I remain unconvinced.

Let’s take, for example, a few choice morsels from the article, entitled “Who Needs Meat When You’ve Got Bugs?“, and dissect them if you will:

The Feral Forager, a self-published ‘zine excerpted in Sandor Katz’s The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, rebrands pill bugs as “land shrimp”; grasshoppers are “surprisingly tasty and filling” and taste “something like popcorn”; crickets, “incredibly high in calcium and potassium.” Roasted grubs make a fat-filled protein snack that, again, tastes “a lot like popcorn.”

I’ve always thought that lobster and shrimp look exactly like insects — namely, cockroaches — anyway.  We’re already halfway there with our love of crustaceans.  Would any of this really be that different?

I mean, we already eat and love mollusks, as it is, and those are creatures whose entire source of food comes from filtering sea water.  Or, as Wikipedia so poetically describes it, they “…draw water in over their gills through the beating of cilia. Suspended food plankton and particles are trapped in the mucus of a gill, and from there are transported to the mouth, where they are eaten, digested and expelled as feces or pseudofeces.” Lovely thought.

Then, however, there is this:

As the Feral Forger notes, “picking up roadkill is a good way to get fresh, wild, totally free-range and organic meat for absolutely free.”

Really?  Free-range and organic?  I beg to differ.  Let’s count the number of things that I saw dead and flattened on the side of the road this weekend during my trip to DFW and back:

  1. Armadillos
  2. Skunks
  3. Possums
  4. Raccoons
  5. Squirrels
  6. Various breeds of dog
  7. Coyotes
  8. Unrecognizable carcasses of indeterminate origin

And now let’s count the number of things on that list that normal people (including your adventurous blogger herself) would eat:

  1. None of the above

I mean, okay…  Those skunks and raccoons and possums are wild as all get out, but I don’t know about “free-range” or “organic” (I mean, the damned things subsist on grass and old Twinkies and cigarette butts, for God’s sake) and I sure as hell wouldn’t classify those remains as “fresh,” even on the side of I-45 on a crisp February day.

Moving on to the final argument:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States and similar regulatory agencies elsewhere all permit a surprising number of “insect parts” in a given weight of packaged food because it is impossible to remove all of the insects during processing, especially in plants.

Ah.  The old “You’re Already Eating It, Whether You Know It Or Not, So You Might As Well Just Keep Going” argument.  It’s a winner almost every time.

The Huffington Post has spoken: give up now, people.  A generation from now, your children and grandchildren will be enjoying tasty Chocolate Chirpie Chip Cookies and Mealworm Fried Rice, laughing at your “old-fashioned” resistance to the charms of grasshoppers and grubs.

*shudder*

Oh-oh-oh, Oh-oh-oh, I Love Sangria Wine

Good grief.  And I thought the TABC was bad.

In Virginia, serving sangria could land you in jail 

Serving the traditional Spanish beverage of sangria could land you in hot water in the southern state of Virginia, but lawmakers were debating Thursday whether to legalize the tapas bar favorite.

“We have a code in Virginia that says no distilled spirit may be added to wine or beer prior to a customer’s order,” Kristy Marshall, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agency, told AFP.

“A lot of restaurants like to pre-mix a drink in the morning and have one big batch to serve throughout the day. It’s the pre-mixing that makes it illegal,” Marshall said.

Violating the code, which dates from 1934, a year after the end of the Prohibition Era, when alcohol was banned in the United States, is a “class one misdemeanor, punishable by a 2,500 dollars fine and/or 12 months in jail,” Marshall said.

And from today’s Chronicle:

Since 1934, the state has prohibited mixing wine or beer with spirits. Frances McDonald, vice president of La Tasca Spanish Tapas Bar and Restaurants, found that out the hard way when his Alexandria location was cited for violating the sangria ban in 2006 and fined $2,000.

McDonald and managing partner Shana McKillop appealed their case to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board on Thursday before going to the Capitol to urge legislators to pass a bill legalizing the red wine, liqueur and fruit concoction.

What’s a tapas restaurant without sangria?  Heresy!  Although it appears that if you’re ever actually in Spain, you should avoid sangria served at tapas bars like the plague.  Hmm.

More importantly, what was the impetus behind such a law back in the 1930s?  Anyone have any idea?  Mixing spirits with spirits…maybe.  Maybe.  But mixing wine and spirits?  Was there some kind of dangerous Kir epidemic in 1930s-era Virginia, where people were abusing their wine cocktails and causing untold damage to persons and properties? 

And why has Virginia taken so long to repeal such a strange law?  Then again, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code has an entire section devoted to “Offenses Related To Bingo,” so I guess we can’t really throw stones.

Porkchops With Cherry Tomato-Mustard Sauce

Enough, I say!

Enough posting links to and pictures of other peoples’ brilliant work in lieu of my own mediocre and haphazard creations.  I’m finally going to write about something I actually did for a change.

I’ve been putting off posting this for a while, not because it was a disaster, but because the photographs themselves are absolutely hideous.  I couldn’t get the light right, I couldn’t get the camera to focus and I was rushed because the people I was serving the meal to actually wanted to eat it, instead of sitting around and watching me take pictures of their food while it grew cold.  Stupid, impatient people.  Heh.

So, just keep in mind that while the photographs make the food look as if it was reconstituted out of some awful 1970s-era Baptist Ladies’ Fellowship cookbook, the food itself was really quite good.

Porkchops With Cherry Tomato-Mustard Sauce
Serves: 4

 

Before I discuss the ingredients, I’d like to talk a little bit about where I found this recipe.  My friend Sarah gave me the new Rocco DiSpirito cookbook recently.  Aside from the undeniable eye-candy on the front cover:

51ruj7awlel__ss400_.jpg
Yum.

…there are also some fantastic-sounding recipes inside (Beef with Crispy Potatoes and Blue Cheese; Goat Cheese Ravioli; Fried Scallops with Melted Onions; just to name a few).

But the book itself is weird.  I’m educated-guessing that to replace the television income that has been depleted by his widely-publicized legal battle with his estranged produced/friend Jeffery Chodorow, he’s entered into a partnership with one or more food companies to promote their food in this cookbook.

The result is a bizarre mixture of polished yet accessible recipes (good!) with recurring calls for such random yet specific ingredients as “Amore® garlic paste” and “Victoria® Fra Diavolo sauce” or “Dole® classic Romaine lettuce” (bad!).  I mean, we’re getting down to brands of lettuce here?  Really?

The entire thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  These aren’t even things that real chefs cook with.  Canned okra?  Hellman’s® Dijonaise?  Real chefs aren’t sending their staff out with directions to the nearest Sam’s Club, all: “If you don’t return with 80 cans of Green Giant® creamed corn, you can kiss your ass good-bye!”  It’s a scam and it irritates the hell out of me.

If I wanted to cook with a specific list of pre-made, preservative-laden, name-brand ingredients, I’d rip the paper off the back of a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup.  It’s just not a very tasteful or professional way to write a cookbook and I find myself — yet again — disappointed with our boy wonder, whom I want so desperately to like.

All that said, I enjoyed the sound of Rocco’s recipe for porkchops with a mustard/cherry tomato sauce and decided to tweak it for my own tastes.  It’s quick, easy to make, and is a real crowd-pleaser, which is why I love it.  Finally…here is the recipe (brand names left out for everyone’s benefit): Continue reading Porkchops With Cherry Tomato-Mustard Sauce