Friday, August 22, 2008

The Omnivore's 100

So, I'm surfing the internet the other day and I come across this list called the Ominvore's Hundred, which originated from a blog called Very Good Taste. Being a somewhat newly-minted omnivore, I thought I'd give it a whirl. What you do is cut and paste the list, then bold the ones you've eaten. I did pretty well, if we're being graded on it, 75 out of 100. What's that? Like a C+? I guess that makes me an average omnivore.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile (does alligator count?)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal (it was at least 20 years ago, I swear)
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores (these are gross, I don't get what the fuss is about)
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (only the ice cream and I could barely swallow it)
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (all of them, thanks)
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

While this was an amusing exercise, I have to say that when reading the list it's fairly obvious that it was written by someone British. Asking an American if they've ever had a pb&j sandwich is like asking them if they've ever tried breathing oxygen. And only a British person would think a Hostess fruit pie would be worth mentioning on any sort of list at all. So, I'm working on my own list and I'll post that next...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

This Little Piggy went to the Ferry Building...

I’d imagine that many born-again carnivores have to summon up the courage to cook meat at home. I know I did. It was surprisingly easy, really. First a Thanksgiving turkey (with 4 pairs of rubber gloves to remove the innards), then some Thai pork shoulder which I hacked apart while chanting “it’s okay, it’s already dead, it’s already dead…”, and I never looked back. Apart from the fact that I love to cook, I knew cooking meat was inevitable for me because I really wanted to make a commitment to eating “good” meat. Humanely raised, organic, no hormones, that sort of thing. This is hard to do when you go out to eat. If you really want to know where your food came from, you either need to eat exclusively at places like Delfina, or you need to cook it yourself.

And so I ventured into the world of butcher shops. It was, and is still, a bit intimidating. All those strange bits of raw meat, and me with not a clue what to do with them. I really think meat should come with instructions. Thankfully I've found some pretty helpful butcher shops in San Francisco.

My first was Drewes Brothers in Noe Valley. I love that place. It’s a great independent butcher shop, owned by two brothers that seem to have a thing for heavy metal. I don’t really approve of the metal, but I do feel good spending my money there. If there’s a long wait when you go to pick up your Thanksgiving turkey, they have free tequila to pass the time. Patron, not the cheap stuff.

Sometimes I go to Prather Ranch in the Ferry Building – they have a nice selection of meats and the music is better than at Drewes Brothers. There's a moddish guy that works there and he's usually playing the Jam or the Buzzcocks as loud as he can get away with in a place like the Ferry Building. And everyone there is friendly too. Butchers are friendly people, I’ve discovered. They don't give you any of that snotty Rainbow Grocery attitude. (Don't get me wrong, I do love Rainbow Grocery, but sometimes I feel like everyone's sneering at me because I didn't bring a jar from home to put my bulk olives in.)

Mostly I love to go to BiRite. They have beef from Marin Sun Farms and other great stuff too. I even bought a duck breast there once - my first! But everything in that store is great so it can be dangerous as I usually end up with loads of cheese and wine and ice cream too.

Now a lot has been written about eating local, sustainable, humanely raised food. And a lot more has been written about how this is an elitist concept that only a few people can afford to practice. Well, I don’t know. Last time I went to Prather Ranch, I got 2 pounds of ground beef, 2 filet mignon and 2 pounds of pork shoulder for about $60. This seemed pretty cheap to me. I mean, $60 for big hunks of various animals? I had to pay more that that to adopt one little dog, and we have to feed HER, not the other way around.

I guess this is really one of the great advantages of being a born-again carnivore: I have absolutely NO IDEA how much meat is supposed to cost! $60 for a big bag-o’-meat, is that expensive? Let's do the math...for $60 we got a fantastic steak dinner, hamburgers, lasagne bolognese, pulled pork sandwiches and papardelle with a slow-cooked pork sugo. 5 meals x 2 people = 10 meals @ $6 each, which makes it almost as cheap as the taqueria on the corner. And ain’t nobody calling that place elitist.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Accidental Feast - Paris, Part 1

Okay okay, I'm back. I know I've been gone for ages, but until someone starts paying me to write about meat, I can't promise that I'll do it on a regular basis.

Let's see, where was I? Oh yes, that big long stint of traveling in the fall. Normally, that would have been merely interesting. As a born-again carnivore, it was a revelation.

I travel for work, some. Not a lot. If you are someone who aspires to a job that involves travel, let me tell you right now - business travel is not glamorous. It is not fun. It is not a vacation. Usually it involves getting very little sleep, seeing the inside of a conference room instead of the sights, eating hotel food, and making mindless small talk to people with whom you have nothing in common. It is, however, waaaaaay better than a regular day at the office.

While I wouldn't consider travel one of the perks of my job, I would consider it a perk that the colleague I most often travel with shares my passion for food & drink. She is someone who understands the importance of a nightcap. She knows that a cocktail at the end of a long flight is as important as a warm bed. She will trek halfway across a strange city with me to find some hole-in-the-wall that I read about in Saveur. And that, my friends, makes business travel tolerable. And sometimes, fun.

In October, we found ourselves on a massive tour that included a conference in DC, followed by a conference in Tunisia, followed by another work function in Barcelona. We were in for the long haul. DC was fine. I even had my first Frito Pie in some place in Alexandria that specialized in the stuff.

But the night before we were to leave for Tunis, the room was abuzz. Several people were to attend the same conference. And Air France went on strike. We were on Air France. What to do?

We go online and look - our flight to Paris is cancelled. Our onward flight to Tunis is not. Okay, easy. We just need to get ourselves to Paris. We call Air France. We spend 40 minutes on hold listening to some hideous song with a woman breathlessly singing 'Away with the Sea'. Finally, they rebook us on a Continental flight for the next day. All is well.

We're running a bit late when we go to check in. "Oh, you're the passengers going to Tunisia," the Continental rep says, "We've been waiting for you." Huh. Not sure if that's good or bad. We get checked in, pulled aside for extra security (of course) and sent on our merry way. Our plane lands in Paris and I turn on my phone. I have a text message. Our Tunis flight is cancelled.

Grrr. Charles de Gaulle Airport is a seething mass of angry humanity. We go to the restroom. "We must put on red lipstick. We're in Paris. That's what you do when you're in Paris," my colleague said. And I admit to her, I've never been to Paris.

It's true. I've been close. Most notably almost 6 months spent in London. But never once did I make it across the channel. She's shocked.

We shuffle between airport counters and baggage claim. We go from Air France to Lufthansa to Iberia to Alitalia and back again. What I learn to appreciate most is the French flair for exaggeration. "No sir," I overhear from an Air France agent, "you are not getting on a flight today. All flights, to anywhere in the world, on any airline, are full."

"Madam," I'm told, "there are million and millons of lost bags. Millons. We cannot possibly find yours." (Thankfully, I have eagle eyes because I found my own bag among the pile.)

Long story short, we manage to get on a Lufthansa flight to Tunis for the next day. We have 18 hours to kill in Paris. There are worse things in the world. Thankfully my colleague knows Paris well. We head into the city, get a hotel and book dinner at Allard.
Allard is as old-school a Parisian bistro as I can imagine. It's not cheap, but hey, we were suffering here. Stuck. In Paris. What are we to do? We're stuck. We must eat. And drink. It's not our fault. It's Air France's fault. They are practically forcing us to eat here.

We order wine.

Then foie gras. My second. it has a little jelly type thing on it that I'm not fond of, but I'll eat it anyway.

Then escargot. Hey, when in Rome, you know. Okay, they gross me out a little. Not the snails, per se, but the fact that their little heads and little antennae are still there. Of course, there's nothing like garlic butter to keep you from noticing a little antennae.

Then a whole Bresse chicken completely covered with chanterelles. I have never, ever, seen so many chanterelles in one place before. Never.

Then tarte tatin. And armagnac. Oh, the tarte tatin.

So yeah, maybe business travel isn't all bad. We got up the next day at 7, and spent 3 hours in Frankfurt airport where I had a delicious bratwurst (I wasn't going to let a meat opportunity pass me by). Maybe it wasn't all that delicious but I'd never had bratwurst before. Well, it was delicious until I found a hard thing in it and had to stop eating it but the mustard was good.

Then we spent another 3 hours in the airport in Tunis waiting for lost luggage while Tunisian men leered at us for being beer-drinking American sluts.
All in a day's work.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I'm No Carnivangelist

I feel like I've still got a lot of 'splainin' to do about this meat thing.

I'm not interested in preaching the gospel of meat. In fact, I completely respect anyone's dietary restrictions, whether they are for ethical, religious, health or any other reason.

I admire vegans. I really do. Vegans are better than me. Some people think vegans are smug but I think they are entitled to lay claim to the moral high ground. And I really, truly believe that if everyone followed a vegan diet, the world would be a much better place. But, it's NEVER EVER going to happen. Not in my lifetime, anyway.

In the meantime, if I leave the 3 strips of bacon off the sandwich, does the pig get to live? No.

Okay, that's a simplistic argument. But really, I guess my idealism has taken a step toward realism. I hate the fact that humankind evolved as it did, raising and killing animals for food. I wish it weren't so.

Anyone who has spoken to me in the last year knows that I loved Michael Pollan's book "The Ominvore's Dilemma" (don't get me started about corn!). I read that book just as I was coming to terms with the fact that I was eating meat in broad daylight. And the one thing that struck me the most about the book was that Michael Pollan, the man who probably puts more thought into what he eats than just about anyone else on the planet, is not a vegetarian.

Maybe, instead of abstaining, we can eat meat in moderation. Choose meat from producers that treat animals well, give them space, and don't pump them full of hormones or antibiotics. (Yes, I know my last entry was about foie gras but really, I agonized over it.)

I think that people place dietary restrictions on themselves for peace of mind. It worked for me for 17 years. As I get older though, I realize that (and this is sad to admit) what I do doesn't really make much of a difference. I vote, and Bush wins - twice. I don't own a car, but does that really help anything in a country where the roads are clogged with SUV's? I turn off the tap while I'm brushing my teeth and at the same time, I know that somewhere in Las Vegas a golf course is getting watered. And so, after 17 years of abstaining from meat, what in the world has changed? Nothing. So what's a bacon sandwich now and then?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Foie Gras Faux Pas

One unintended - but very welcome - consequence of becoming a meat-eater is that people start inviting you over for dinner. Our social lives have vastly improved. (Veggies take note: your carnivorous friends and co-workers have dinner parties that they don't tell you about. Trust me, they do.)

Thankfully, we came out in time to be invited to a French Christmas Eve dinner last year at the home of our friends Gibouille and Elise.

This is the kind of event that strikes both excitement and fear in the heart of a born-again carnivore. At a restaurant we can pick and choose the meat we feel comfortable with; at someone's home you have to eat what you are served. Or at least try it. Mom said so.

I was a little nervous as we set out...Christmas Eve dinner with a bunch of French people? Please, God, don't let there be any organ meats or gelatinous textures. I was not ready for that.

We arrived fashionably late at 7:30, and were the first guests there. I had a Ricard and helped to set the table. Then I had a beer. And another beer. And a kir. Around 9pm, the other guests started to arrive. We had champagne.

I was standing in the dining area with the only other American there. Everyone else was outside smoking. Gibouille came in and dropped a baking sheet full of bacon-wrapped prunes on the table. "Amuse bouche," he said, and went out to join the smokers. I hadn't eaten all day and scarfed down 7 or 8 of them.

Finally, more champagne was opened and everyone came to the table. We had a toast, then Gibouille and Elise started to serve the first course. Foie gras.

Oh god, there it was. The most politically-incorrect of all meats. A slab of foie gras the size of a pork chop was sitting in front of me.

I'd never had foie gras before. I'd never had liver before. I'd never even had duck before. I thought about politely saying something like, "Oh, I'm so sorry, but I don't eat foie gras," but I'm sure no one would have heard me. The French people were busy letting out little shrieks of glee, making loud yummy noises, and saying things like "oh la la" (yes, French people really do say that!). I looked over at Jason - he was digging right in - and he shot me the look that means, "This shit is goooood."

The room was spinning a little. I didn't know if it was the alcohol or the scent of tortured ducks in the air. The foie gras was mocking me, daring me to eat it. On my right shoulder, an angelic miniature Morrissey begged me not to savour the flavour of murder. On my left, a tiny evil Anthony Bourdain said "Don't be a pussy. Do you really want to humilate yourself in front of half the French waiters in the city?"

I confided in the guy sitting next to me. "Ummm, I've never had foie gras before. I'm a little afraid of it."

"Oh my god, this is the best thing. You have to eat this," he said. He prepared a piece for me - a little bread, a lot of foie gras, a little fig compote. I took a bite.

I was doesn't really taste meaty. It's a little sweet, a little savory. Oh yes, I get it fills your mouth with velvet. It's so smooth and delicious. It doesn't taste like torture at all. It's like ambrosia. I'm amazed. I'm impressed. I'm overwhelmed. I'm going to be sick.

No one notices as I leave the table, they are all too wrapped up in their foie gras-induced ecstasy. But the bathroom is not far from the table and when I come back, everyone knows.

"Did you just get sick?" Gibouille asked.

"Yeah...but I'm okay now," I say. I sat down and KEPT EATING. This, my friends, is the most punk rock thing I've ever done in my life. Oh yeah I felt like crap, but I was NOT going to miss the rest of this dinner.

What followed:

cream of mushroom soup with truffle oil

buckwheat crepe with smoked salmon and creme fraiche

lemon & vodka sorbet

roasted chicken
(I took a nap during the chicken course. It was okay because this is when the French people started singing and by the time I woke up from my nap they were still singing and my chicken was still waiting for me.)

wild boar cooked in wine with celery root puree
(This course was amazing! I still dream about it. While I was eating it I happened to glance at my watch and it was 1:30 am. This was some serious eating.)

roquefort cheese tart with carmelized pear and salad

Phew. No one had room for the chocolate mousse. Then our friend Freddo arrived, fresh from his shift at Fleur de Lys, carrying a cake in the shape of a log. I laughed at the log. (I've since learned that this is a traditional French Christmas cake, ooops).

It didn't really matter that I'd just spent 5 hours eating the largest dinner my life. When Hubert Keller sends a free cake your way, you eat it. So I ate it. I don't know how.

Jason & I were up all night. We ate nothing the next day. But we will always have fond memories of our first meaty Christmas. And foie gras? Well, wait til I tell you about our trip to Paris...

Saturday, December 29, 2007


I have a confession to make. Okay, no, I have two confessions to make.

1. I have been on 22 flights in the last two months. Yep, I have a carbon footprint so big that I could stamp out the sun. (Hey, what do I care? I don't have kids!)

2. I love airline food. Honestly. I love airline food in the same way that I loved TV dinners when I was a kid. Do you remember TV dinners? The kind that came in a foil tray, that got cooked in the real oven? Sure, they were always disgusting, but there was something so exciting about peeling back the foil to reveal what secrets lie beneath. What will it be? Will it be cooked all the way through or frozen in the middle? What is the dessert? Can I really eat Salisbury steak without puking? It was the element of surprise, combined with the challenge of eating something so disgusting, topped off with a warm dessert, all in a neat compact tray. I get the same thrill every time I fly.

Well, not every time. If you've been on a domestic US flight lately, you know that they don't give you food anymore. But on international flights (which are sometimes shorter than domestic ones) and in the rest of the world, they still give you food. Hey, at least it gives you something to pass the time.

Now despite the fact that I've been eating meat for over a year now, this was really the first big trip where I was out of the closet as a carnivore. Oh, sure, I nibbled a few bits of chicken last year in Thailand (and suffered food poinsoning from it) but until now, I've stuck to the veggie meal.

Let me tell you, getting rid of the veggie meal has made traveling a dream. For those of you who have never suffered through an airline veggie meal, let me share my pain of flights past.

It goes like this:
You book a flight, and at some point, on the phone or online, you opt for a special meal. The airline will present you with a dizzying array of special meals. Lacto-ovo vegetarian, vegan, low fat, low sodium, kosher, bland, halal ...

You choose lacto-ovo. That sounds safe.

As soon as you reach 30,000 feet, a flight attendant will come up and confirm that you have ordered a special meal. You feel special.

A few minutes later, she will return and plop your meal in front of you. Of course, meal service has not begun for the rest of the cabin, so you are getting jealous stares from all the other passengers. You have no drink.

Your meal is covered in foil and is labeld VGML. It has your name on it. Awww. You peel back the foil to reveal a veg mess. It's usually something like eggplant with mung beans and green beans and a little bit of tomato sauce over rice. It's the sort of thing I would expect to be served by those Food Not Bombs kids. Off to the side, is a half-frozen whole wheat roll with corn-oil margarine. A rotting salad with fat-free Italian dressing, with the texture of phlegm. A graham cracker. And a little dish of underipe melon with grapes.

Ummm, okay. Well, the veg mess is warm at least and the plane is freezing, so you eat.

Right around then, food service begins for everyone else. "Chicken or veggie lasagne?" they're asking. Veggie lasagne!!! Hey, wait. I could have eaten that! Why can't I have the veggie lasagne??? (Don't bother asking, they will tell you they don't have enough to go around. After all, you ordered the veggie meal.)

Soon your seatmates will have their meal. You stare (payback). They have veggie lasagne. And the same wilted salad, only they have full-fat ranch dressing! And instead of a graham cracker, they have real crackers, with a packet of real cheese. And instead of fruit, they have carrot cake. And a normal roll, with real butter. What gives? Didn't you order the lacto-ovo veg meal? Why couldn't you have these decadent delights??

My theory is that that lacto-ovo meal, the vegan meal, the bland meal, the low fat meal and the low sodium meal are ALL THE SAME THING. They just put a different sticker on it to make you feel special. BASTARDS.

Anyway, I can now tell you that flying without the dreaded VGML is like having a weight lifted off your shoulders. You don't even really have to eat any meat. And once you leave the American-owned airlines, the food improves dramatically. (Seriously, some of the best food I had in India was on a 1-hour Jet Airways flight....more on that later.)

I'm baaaccck!

Oh dear, poor, neglected blog. I am so sorry for having abandoned you. You see, I have been traveling since October, and I don't have a laptop. No, really.

I've been traveling for work. I've been traveling for fun. Don't believe me? I'll tell you. Since October, I have been to Washington DC, Tunisia, Barcelona, Paris (twice), Florence, Rome, Naples, Sorrento, Palermo, Nice, Las Vegas and India.

But good news, I have consumed more meat in the last two months than I probably have in the whole of my life. I've eaten ducks. I've eaten goats. I've eaten wild boars and milk-fed baby lambs. Truly, I have a story to tell about meat in all its glory. So please, don't give up on me, blog.