Wednesday, March 14, 2007

How Expensively Does Your Garden Grow?

Spring is here, and so is the Smith & Expensive catalog. Smith & Hawken, of course, is the outfit that turned gardening into a fashion statement. They've gradually weeded out most seeds and plants from their line of goods and replaced them with outdoor furniture (Do you prefer "Avignon Lounging" or "Canterborough Lounging"?) and the likes of "bunny topiary." At $89 a bunny, it's a Chia Pet for the Lexus set.

Ah, but there are two pages of actual garden tools in the Spring Sale catalog. "Why Smith & Hawken tools?" asks the catalog. "A great partnership with an English toolmaker (in business for 200 years)." Sure enough, these carefully sculpted tools look like props for the help in country garden scenes on "Masterpiece Theater." The catalog provides handy descriptions for the kind of modern Americans who only develop calluses inside their Manolo Blahniks.

"Long-handled Shovel: For lifting and throwing gravel, compost, soil or sand." Who knew? For further instructions ask one of your Guatemalan lawn guys.

You can have your $59 shovel and your $39 "Perennial Hoe." My favorite new Smith & Hawken tool is the Dibber, an 11-inch carbon-steel pointy thing with a finely crafted wooden handle "to create small holes for planting seeds or small seedlings."

The dictionary says a "dibber" was originally called a "dibble," which comes, natch, from the Middle English "debylle." Whatever you call it, it costs $25 plus shipping so you can poke holes in the dirt.

As my wife says in Middle American: "I got sticks for that."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Will Eat for Money?

I realize that because of a generous mention by Sam, anyone reading this is probably a foodista. You may even be reviewing restaurants online, and more power to you and your gut if you are. But if you're thinking about going into dining as a line of work, there's something you should know. (Apologies if you've heard this old standard of mine before.) Restaurant reviewing is a lot like prostitution.

You take a normal bodily function, perform it over and over again for money, and put a lot of strange things in your mouth.

Sure, restaurant reviewing is fun for the first couple of years (I don't know about prostitution), but if you must do it for any length of time, here's some advice:

One: Don't do it in the late 1970s. That's when I took up the fork and pen as a way to break into newspapers. Food was barely invented then and I was forced to do battle with salads of hacked iceberg lettuce and glopped protein called "continental cuisine." Most of the latter was previously frozen, so I assume the continent in question was Antarctica. A line I used at the time.

Two: Don't do it in B markets, if you can help it. I dug through the ancient cuisines of Palo Alto and Orlando and, except for some good stuff served on Formica counters, the best that could be said then was that Palo Alto was an hour's drive from Chez Panisse and Orlando was two days' drive from New Orleans. At least I was sort of qualified for the job, having worked at several bad restaurants in my youth, and having a sharp-tongued, super-tasting partner in the detection of culinary crimes. Thank you, Cookiecrumb, for your patience in the misuse of your palate.

Three: No matter where on the time/space continuum you choose to become a restaurant critic, just try going back to your favorite places for your favorite dishes. You can't do it unless you're seriously bankrolled and seriously bulemic. You have to keep moving on, free-ranging (well, forced-ranging) through good restaurants and bad. The worse they are, the more times you have to visit, to make sure you're right about how wrong their food is.

No, if you want to eat well, do something else for a living, something that doesn't eat you.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Discomfort food

No more jokes about precious food. The new food joke is on all you real men who made fun of fancy restaurants serving tiny dabs of delicate delicacies. At the best of the new American restaurants you'll feel like Anthony Bourdain in Namibia staring at a plate of fried rodents' anuses. Only you're the asshole. You should have enjoyed the microgreens while you had the chance. Now you have to eat offal.

Eating the whole animal is the new thing. You must honor its sacrifice, its humane slaughter after years of coddling by kindly organic farmers, by eating hunks of its lowest, innermost or most extreme parts. Are you as squinty tough as Jim Harrison, well are you punk? That's the question posed by the new upscale-downbeast restaurants like Incanto in San Francisco.

As my wife delighted in a risotto made with duck tongues and cocks' combs (roosters' secondary sex characteristics, she called them, as if disappointed in not savoring the primary), I stared down the blackened vertibrae of a roasted lamb's neck. It was Alien meets CSI San Francisco, Special Gourmet Unit. I passed the gag test and indeed it was great, once the collagenoidal hunks of meat (honored by being roasted perfectly medium rare) were pried from the nooks and crannies of the bone and gristle that once supported little lambikins' cute head.

There was so much meat in there that, alas, I was forced to skip a morsel of rooster sex characteristic proffered by my wife. Okay, I wimped out. In my own defense, earlier I had scoffed up, tongue and jowl (mine and its), jellied pig head. The restaurant and I prefer to call it porchetta di testa. Testing the pig, I think it means.

I was tested, and found offal not so gawdawful. But good, as the old song about moose turd pie has it. That, by the way, will be one fad too far.