Food Safety

Jesu Cristo, put on some fucking gloves!

With the ringing in of the new year I am reminded that I write for a blog with roughly as many entry’s as years it has spanned.  And while that statistic is staggering, it’s not as upsetting (I know you’re upset by this) as the real-dick-move pulled by the Municipality of Anchorage against food service workers.  As of January 1, 2010 all food service workers handling uncooked food must wear gloves.  It sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it?  Think of that kid that you see sitting outside the gas station with a big Jolt soda, holding a cigarette butt, wearing a Subway polo shirt four sizes too big, that look in his eyes, the cold…  Yeah, I want that kid wearing gloves.  Can we make that kid wear gloves all the time?  But this law affects more than the people who touch your slimy weird processed turkey, this law affects prep cooks in a big way.  I’m talking about real prep cooks.  If you didn’t know prep cooks are the unsung heros of the restaurant kitchen.  They do the blood and guts work.  When a line cook or a chef needs an ingredient, he has it because of the prep cook.  Cutting, slicing, chopping, dicing, this is the prep cook.  It is a job that makes or breaks you for a kitchen.  Either you move to the line because you can handle food or you find a different career path. And with all that chopping, blah, blah, blah, knife skills are very necessary.  Here’s the rub, its fucking hard to cut safely in gloves.

Yes, this law is good in its intention of eliminating the spread of “germs.”  However, I think people would be surprised to see how clean restaurant cook’s hands are.  With the exception of line cooks, whose hands are perpetually cauterized, cooks wash their hands quite a bit, it’s not really like in the movies.  If you are eating in a place where the cooks’ hands are dirty, believe me, everything in the place is dirty.  Putting gloves on the cooks isn’t going to stop the spread of germs.  Thing about microorganisms is that  they don’t just come on hands.   This law is going to stop anyone from getting sick.

This law is going to cause buckets of spilled blood.  If you can type more than 60 words a minute, you can understand what being able to dice a whole onion in 15 seconds is like.  It takes a manual dexterity, it takes muscle memory, it takes confidence,  but unlike typing it also takes a fucking razor-sharp knife.  Now throw some of those non-latex gloves in there.

(A side note on my experience with these gloves.  Put simply, they don’t fit.  I’ve been told that I have big hands.  [By the way, people stop telling me that. Their my hands, I know.] So, when I put on a pair of these gloves, I tear through them like the Hulk’s purple pants.)

Wearing gloves while cooking will lead to accidental cutting, due to the inability to use the sense of feel.  No one thought of that?  Assholes.  Anyway, it’s also going to lead to an increase in small bits of non-latex glove in your food.  Thought you should know.

How Hard Is It? How Fucking Hard Is It?

Really?

All I want is for it to snow blood during the pyrotechnics show! – Marylin Manson
I just spent some time on Maui. Needless to say, it was indeed paradise. When I was in Mexico, last year, I got a little fed up with Mexican food. I guess I like variety. Maui had variety. Though I was somewhat confined to a small section of the island, food choices abound. Perhaps, I’ll write about them sometime, but what I want to talk today is pizza. On a small island on the other side of the world, I had wonderful, East Coast pizza. I prefer East Coast, to saying NY style pizza to avoid the mook associations that come with the stereotypical NY pizza proponents. Anyhow, Shaka pizza in Kehei on Maui, good shit. Seriously hand-tossed crust, light sauce, real cheese. All you really need. Why can’t anyone, save Nino’s, do that in Anchorage? Why? Why are there so many pizza shops where it is clear that no one really likes or has even eaten much pizza? Why open a pizza shop if you just want to make cardboard, frozen pizza? You shouldn’t be allowed to open a pizza shop if you don’t have a stone oven of some type. I don’t know who invented the conveyor belt pizza oven, but that son of a bitch needs to pay. You know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, next time you have pizza, look at the bottom of your slice. If there is a diamond grid scored in the crust, it came out of a oven with no regard for your pizza enjoyment. A sad world we live in.

Stuff White People Like

Sigh...

Sigh...

So, I’m taking an undergrad class, for no good reason; as an assignment we read the Blog book Stuff White People Like, by Christian Lander.  We were then given the assignment to write an imitation of one of Lander’s blog entries.  It’s pretty slimey to copy cat another blogger, but since I wrote it as an assignment – fuck Christian Lander.

White People Like Ruining a Waiter’s Day

White people are all unique and they always know exactly what the best things in life are.  They also know that they are the most important people in any room they are in.  This is why white people come to the hip downtown breakfast spot, where I work.

White people like new experiences, so they will act as though they have never been to a restaurant.  When approached by their server, they disregard the obvious fact that the server is both very busy and asking them questions.  Often a white person will ignore the server completely by continuing chatting with friends or on their cell phones.  If they choose to acknowledge the server it will usually be a demand.  For instance, when the server approaches and asks how they are doing, a white person will reply “Coffee.”

Once the first round of drinks is obtained, the white people will begin the ordering process.  This does not entail simply saying the name of a menu item.  White people adore extraneous information.  They will ask where any given ingredient is from.  If the server doesn’t know the exact location it was grown/lived that item will be inedible.  They will need to know the server’s stance on trans-fats, msg, iodized salt, the ethics of foie gras, and where the went to college.  All of this information aids in the decision process as white people pride themselves on useless knowledge.  White people will need a few more minutes to decide.

When they are ready to order, white people, always looking for obscurity and exclusivity, will not order off the menu.  Since they know what is best, they will regard the menu as a mere suggestion of what is available.  If an omelet includes six ingredients, five of these will be substituted.  The eggs will also have to egg whites; instead of being cooked in oil, Pam spray will be requested. Also, the hash browns will need to be replaced with fruit, but no strawberries because there is a strawberry boycott in effect until migrant farm workers are given new Ipods and audio book versions of “The Grapes of Wrath.”  Also, nearly all white people are, or believe themselves to be gluten-intolerant, so the toast will need to be replaced with tofu.

Ultimately, white people will enjoy whatever is brought to them rather than face the embarrassment of admitting that they ruined the omelet with the addition of alfalfa sprouts, kalamata olives, and ground yerba mate.  Always be patient with white people when they are eating breakfast; agree that their choices are your personal favorites.  This will make them feel that they know the best way to breakfast.  Also, they tip better when they feel they’ve earned your respect.  Eventually though, white people will turn on their favorite breakfast spot, claiming it used to better, back before everyone knew about it.

Alright, so that was something I turned in to a college professor.  FML.  Anyway, Christian Lander’s blog is seriously hilarious, check it out  Stuff White People Like

The Food In Mexico Sucks

 

What I Imagined

What I Imagined

 

What I Got

What I Got

        I recently returned from a two-week trip to Mexico.  The food is not the only detriment to living in Alaska.  In the dead of winter it is recommended that residents leave for equatorially aligned destinations.  This would be my first trip south of Virginia in the winter.  And, though it was 70 degrees in Virginia that January (Global what-now?), it still felt like winter.  Not so in Ol’ Mexico. Though, I was leaving Alaska, essentially to get some sun, I’ve never been comfortable in hot weather. But here I was in Mexico, more than 100 degrees hotter than my home.  The phrase from Raekwon’s “Spot Rusherz”:  “It feels like something gonna happen kid.  It’s in air. It feels hot, it feels hot at night” popped into my head every time the sun set.

I think it was Bobby Flay who taught me that cultures set in hot climates eat hot, spicy foods in order to produce sweat, which as we all know cools the body.  For me, this was completely unnecessary.  Sweat poured from me like Angel Falls, long streams cascading down from my head, leaving pools at my feet.  A little chili sauce wasn’t necessary to help me produce sweat.  But, recently I’ve discovered the intoxicating qualities of peppers.  So, I was game for some heat as a remedy for the heat. 

 

I was also greatly anticipating street food.  Being reared on the East Coast, I have come to understand that the looks and cleanliness of where your food comes from does not necessarily reflect the taste or quality of the food.  That said, I wanted to munch tacos on the street, I wanted to savor fruit hacked by a machete, I wanted to eat things that were carried in baskets that rested on the heads of ugly, old ladies.  I wanted to be adventurous.  It didn’t really work out they way I pictured it.  I’ll give you the high lights day-by-day.

            Day 1: Upon waking, we ventured down to the street to find a meal.  We came across a restaurant right on the beach that seemed to be winding down their breakfast service.  We got a table and immediately ordered drinks, for the novelty of drinking with breakfast, if for no other reason.  Ah, vacation.  That breakfast was the first of many to come that was served exactly like every other meal.  Generally, I am not a breakfast person.  Sure, I work in the best breakfast spot in the city.  Before that, I pulled my yoke in the busiest breakfast franchise in the city.  But, I don’t really like to eat the stuff.  Sure, occasionally, but my ideal breakfast is bacon, toast and OJ, hold the eggs, no pancakes.  In Mexico, breakfast is a much fuller meal.  Where I like to keep it light, they pack in the thick, heavy foods that my body simply can’t process until after 3 pm.  The eggs were fluffy enough, scrambled with onions, tomatoes and cilantro, but it was near mandatory that the meal come with a slick of moist black beans.  I suppose in lieu of the potatoes that accompany our egg dishes.  When I wake up, I don’t want black beans, I simply don’t, but when in Rome, do as the Romans.  So, I did. 

After laying poolside for a few hours (all day), hunger got the best of my traveling companion and I.  Not yet feeling adventurous we didn’t want to travel far for dinner.  Across the street from our hotel was what appeared to be a small restaurant nestled in the middle of the block.  Fondo Christina, it had tables, it had a menu, it had a drink cooler…but, it wasn’t a restaurant, because, that implies that it was a building.  Upon further inspection, Christina’s turned out to be snugly tucked in the rubble of a fallen building.  An ancient tree protruded from the back of the place, which was most likely built around as a tweener-tree and as it matured, it destroyed the building.  The good women of Christina’s constructed a lean-to with a tarp to guard from dropping leaves and shade the kitchen. 

We sat and looked pointlessly at some menus.  Neither of our Spanish is at the reading level, though certain words could be comprehended, the preparation could not be deciphered.  They gaggle of patient women surrounded us, saying “No Taco” despite tacos being listed and pointing at other things on the menu.  Finally, they choose for us, likely sensing our American palates would like deep fried food…not that they were wrong.  We ordered two Cokes – I love Mexican Coke.  At home I drink Diet Coke, in the hope to avoid rotting my teeth out of my skull, but Mexican Coke is made with sugar as opposed to corn syrup, so the taste is genuine and creamier than the bastardized American version.  They brought rice and fresh, hot, thick corn tortillas.  On the table rested a mortar of salsa verde.  I scooped up a fat sliver of the pepper with the corner of a tortilla.  It was oily, (good for coating the mouth and protecting from some of the heat of the pepper) and smoky, and not unpleasant in flavor.  Normally, I can’t stand smoke in my food.  This is because, in American cooking it is overdone and unnatural.  I pass on anything made with Liquid Smoke, and generally I feel that smoked foods taste more like wood than what they should taste like.  But this Christina’s salsa was just smoky enough to suggest that the skin of these peppers was charred on a flame, and not doused in the toxic fumes of that will kill you if inhaled.  Next, a big bowl of soupy black beans was set in front of us.  I found them bland, though my traveling companion eagerly scooped them up.  Our entrées came next, it turned out that we had ordered fried shrimp with limes and fried chicken breast.  Spotted as fussy Americans, we were given dishes that no one could turn down.  Again, I must emphasize that they weren’t wrong.  The shrimp, with heads intact, must have been pounded at the tail to add to the length, then were breaded with a corn and breadcrumb mixture and deep-fried.  The chicken in the same crumb mixture  was also pounded, to within a 1/16 of an inch.  It was unnaturally thin, but gloriously salty, crispy and chicken-y.  Both meals left us satisfied and eager for more.  With a full stomach of greasy, spicy, citrus-y food the temperature became a non-factor.  “Let me sweat,” I thought.  It made locals jealous that I could do what only their hottest chiles could produce in them.

I have a dream

I just woke up from a dream that featured a para-military invasion of the suburb my mom moved to after my parents divorced, rationing of towels, and buying a bratwurst with “must-id” from a street vendor, it was on a fresh roll, slathered with a dijon, (even though, when I asked for “must-id”, I expected yellow) and topped with what looked like roe. I woke up before I got to take a bite. If only dreams came true.

The Bear Tooth

Ostensibly three restaurants in one, the Bear Tooth (BT) has a lot going for it.  Started as a vehicle to sell high quality, creative, craft beer, BT has developed an Anchorage institution offering quick eats, movies, concerts, and a casual dining room.  The theater/pub offers a menu of pizza, burritos, and salads.  The pizza menu is a sister of the Moose’s Tooth.  I like this pizza, but since the expansion of the Moose’s Tooth last year, the atmosphere has suffered.  BT doesn’t share this issue, due to it being clear across town and having separate dining options.  You may order pizza in the pub, a small, high-ceiling space next to the kitchen or in the theater.  The theater shows second-run movies for $3 a ticket, offering art-house and foreign films on Monday nights. The biggest draw is being able to order pizza, to be delivered in the theater, beer in there too. But you may not order pizza in the Bear Tooth Grill, the casual dining restaurant attached to the theater/pub.  The pizza, as I said, is good, but that is the extent of it.  Yes, it is creative and innovative for Anchorage.  In fact, it may be one of the few pizza places that use fresh, high-quality ingredients.  However, I am a pizza purist from the East Coast.  If you’ve had a real New York or Philly slice of cheese pizza, you know that kalamata olives, chorizo, roasted garlic cloves, pesto, blackened halibut, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers are cute, but not necessary.  Unfortunately, the cheese pizza at BT feels heavy, over garlicked and dull.  It relies on doezens of toppings for remarkability.  I’ve never understood the compulsion to put more than two toppings on any pizza, but then again, I actually like pizza.  You can be assured that I eat the crust.  I might even eat your crust; you crust waster.  You think you’re too good for crust? Huh? The best bet for a light, flavorful pizza is the Margarita.  With mozzarella, provolone, fresh roma tomatoes and fresh basil on a garlic oil doused crust, it is the best pizza BT offers.
The Tex-Mex of the theater/pub is similarly well thought, but flawed in nit-picky ways.   The beans in the burritos are disappointingly dry and flavorless in their whole, un-refried state.  Most burritos also contain rice.  I will never understand how rice is a viable ingredient to be rolled in a tortilla.  I may be alone in my distain for rice in burritos, but I enjoy the tortilla.  As a result, I don’t want it stretched like a drum skin around the ingredients.  This may just be something that bothers me, but I don’t need or want a burrito to weigh a pound; slim it down and I’ll have the rice on the side.  Another quibble with the burritos, tacos and sandwiches in the theater/pub is the singular side that accompanies these meals.  The house made tortilla chips are thick, crunchy and salty and as always much better if you’re lucky enough to get them hot.  Sadly, they haven’t always been the lone accompaniment, to the food.  They used to serve them with little baby carrot sticks, which were palate cleansing and a welcome color on the dull plates.  Now they don’t.  I miss the carrot sticks.
The Bear Tooth Grill is attached, but has its own kitchen.  The Grill is always busy.  You can expect to wait 10-30 minutes for table at dinner, but you wait will be worthwhile.  If you can get a stool, be sure to get a drink from the thick, varnished bar (It feels weird).  I would steer away from the martinis and stick with margaritas, sangria or blended drinks. They may be a pain in the ass for the bartender, but they are well worth the few extra dollars.  Beer is a signature and it is damn good.  If you don’t like beer, try the Apple Ale, light bodied, crisp but more complex than a cider.
When you get a table, I recommend the Guacamole appetizer, when avocado is in season (summer).   The Jalapeno Poppers are fucking ridiculous.  They are far too hot to enjoy.  I like hot food, but their heat is overwhelming and without the payoff of flavor.  I could see how the heat would intertwine with the cheese opiates and create a blissful high, but it doesn’t happen here.  The Goat Cheese Crostini appetizer is a good match for colder weather, without being obnoxiously spicy (I”m still mad at you Jalapeno Poppers).  The Crustini, served with a red pepper salad and balsamic reduction, sweetly compliments the cream of the goat cheese expertly.
Burgers are solid stand-bys, not the best in town but much better than most.  They are cooked medium well and retain a good deal of juice, without being greasy or bloody.  The Southwestern Burger gets kind of sloppy with the addition of avocado slices, but it is flavorful and fits well with the restaurant’s theme.  The real treat when ordering a burger is the French Fries.  BT’s Garlic Cilantro Fries are crisp on the exterior and velvety inside.  Generally, I view fries as boring filler, frozen and fried and not worth the Ketchup I dip them in.  BT’s Garlic Cilantro Fries; however, are fucking magnificent.
The pasta dishes and the meat, potato, veg plates are really not big draws at BT Grill.  Certainly, the mainstay pasta dishes are worth trying.  The Garlic Chicken Fettuccini is good, if over spiced.  I can say the same for the Spicy Peanut Noodles.  The rotating ravioli dish is generally complex in flavor and texture, making for good ravioli.  But the portions of these are terribly small and often unsatisfying.  The meat and fish plates are not really interesting for some reason.  Perhaps, they just aren’t the kind of meals you go to the BT Grill to have.
The enchilada plates are pretty good interpretations of the standard Mexican restaurant crap that you can get with rice and beans at every other Mexican place in town.  They serve a tomatillo cilantro rice that has a faint green tone and equally faint, subdued flavor.  Instead of refried pinto beans, BT Grill offers refried black beans, topped with cojita cheese; they are a little thicker, can go dry on you, but they’re pretty tasty.  I like both red and green enchilada sauces and often get one of each.   Sometimes the enchiladas are dry.  Perhaps they sat in the window waiting for other orders to come up, but some sour cream can generally revive them.  The Halibut Tacos are excellent both beer battered and blackened, with a crisp, fruity cabbage complimenting the fish and adding that all-important crunch.
Desserts range from fantastic to fucking pointless.    The house made desserts are simple, but well practiced and thus well balanced.  A delightfully creamy, vanilla flecked Crème Brulee is offered.  The Banana Tostada is airy and rich with its generous caramel drizzle.  Unfortunately, the joint venture with Sugarspoon bakery doesn’t seem to be working out.  Though their special desserts sound exciting (Pina Colada Cake, Mocha Hazelnut Meringue), in practice these creative cakes consistently come up short.  Of the four I’ve sampled, all were too dry (One to the point of near choking), all were dull, lacking even sweetness, and needless to say, all were disappointing.  It may be due to bad storage, or it may just be that Sugarspoon bakery sucks; I honestly can’t say.
The staff of the Bear Tooth seems to love to work there and their enthusiasm carries over into quality, knowledgeable service by servers who give a shit about the food and about the customers’ enjoyment.   I suspect the kitchens are proud of thier product; the brewers must be as well.  It even seems as though the managment even cares about making a good resturant work. As a result, the Bear Tooth is one of the best places to eat in Anchorage.

Certifiable Organitiarians (I coined that word)

Mmm, pesticide free, that's organic right?

Mmm, pesticide free, that's organic right?

I bought you some groceries.  I thought you might like to start eating organic.
Nah, that’s for rich people who hate themselves
– Tina Fey and Amy Poeler in Baby Momma

The organic revolution started with the California cuisine movement in the 1970s.  In its original incarnation it was an admirable effort to simply eat fresh food, grown in a proximity to where it was prepared to ensure the highest quality and peak age.  It was food grown on a small scale, to provide for small populations and small restaurants.  It was possible to grow produce to supply individual restaurants in private gardens.  What wasn’t grown on site was bought at local farmer’s markets.  It was a small sustainable system available to residents of Northern California.
The organic food movement now is a façade of a clown face, a trend, a fad – like Atkins.  Organic food has nothing to do with fresh food any longer.  Eating organic food signals to those around you that you are a) health conscious, b) well off c) mindful of other’s opinions of yourself, d) naïve, e) and unattractive.  Alright, I may have embellished that last point, but I stand behind the others.  The organic food movement is a joke.  America is the unwitting butt.
Organic food is designated as such by the USDA.  The standards for organic certification are that food labeled “organic” be grown, harvested and processed according to standards that include restrictions on pesticides, hormones and antibiotics.  Food labeled “100% organic” must have no synthetic ingredients and can use the USDA organic seal.  Food labeled “organic” must have a minimum of 95% organic ingredients and can use the USDA organic seal.  Meat, eggs, poultry and dairy labeled “organic” must come from animals that have never received antibiotics or growth hormones.  But as the Detroit Free Press indicates, the consumer can expect to pay from 10% to 100% more for “organic” foods.  As the demand for organic foods increases, the production yield decreases driving the cost up.  This is Farming 101; when you are moving product, you increase your yield.  After you increase your land suffers and you must cycle it with nitrogen-rich crops, or let it rest, or use synthetic fertilizer.  Or, you can grow smaller amounts of food and jack the price up – less land, less labor, less product – more money.
This is a marketing ploy, plain and simple.  Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against marketers.  In fact, some of my closest friends are marketers.  My problem is with the people who buy it.  The people for whom eating organic is an indicator of status.  They aren’t even as insightful as vegetarians.  At least vegetarians can operate under the delusion that they are doing something positive for the population.  Organitarians are the same assholes that drive BMWs, have $1000 purses and send their children to academies.  Sarah Palin would be an organitarian if she wasn’t such a simple-minded dolt, and if Alaska had a Whole Foods.  I thank my lucky stars that we are still the kind of place that builds to frenzy over the new Target store (which by the way is just Fred Meyer with different shitty brands you’ve never heard of).
I can see it now – the pallid, wind-burnt faces of the cross country skiers, with their Mountain Hardware fleece pullovers, their Swix stretch pants with the severely tapered cuffs, their graying goatees or flat brown hair, noses red and raw, just begging to be seen at the Whole Foods by other assholes of their ilk, hoping to talk about themselves, but knowing that they themselves have only been feigning interest in those stories since they gave up on enjoying food, convincing themselves that they like eating stir-fry and brown rice every day.
Most people simply don’t understand what organic means.  They do not understand that the USDA is basing their certifications on the word of farms.  You can’t possibly know what materials are used to grow, from the seeds, to the fertilizer, to the pesticide, unless you are there to see it.  I doubt if there are inspectors present.  Also, the USDA is a government agency; Archer Daniel Midland (ADM) and ConAgra Foods are some of the largest corporations in the world.  These companies have major sway over the policies of the government.  What ADM says is organic will get the USDA sticker, no questions asked.
I really don’t need to be conspiratorial here.  Think about the organic foods that you have seen or bought.  Where did you get them?  Who was selling them?  Was it a grizzled Kansas farmer at the farmer’s market or at his roadside stand?  Doubt it.  It was at a food-giant supermarket, wasn’t it?  Do you think that there is a small, local, organic farm supplying your Safeway?  Well, there isn’t.  They buy their organic food from the same suppliers as everything else.  There are major factory farms that supply the country’s organic niche.  There practices simply cannot be up to a meaningful standard.  Get over it.
There is nothing wrong with organic food.  There is nothing wrong with the corporations and smaller companies that sell it.  There is nothing wrong with the people who eat it.  I have no problem buying and enjoying organic foods myself.  But, I’m not going to fool myself into thinking I’m making a better choice simply because of the sticker.  And I don’t want any fucking stir-fry.