Sunday, November 29, 2009

Secret Service.....

If anyone was wondering seriously about the relative importance of two social climbers making into the State Dinner at the White House.....wonder no more.

I have passed Secret Service scrutiny three times....minimum. Any outfit that would allow me within wine-pouring distance of a sitting President, former President, or Presidential candidate.....has a deep and abiding trust in the goodness of mankind. turns out the dumbass Obama's fired the woman in charge of vetting all the social guests to the White House in advance, and who was always present at the door of all social functions to double check the lists and find problems. Well, they didn't fire her....they just demoted her to the point of absurdity. She was a hold-over from the Bushes, you see. Been on the job since 2001. Knew every idiot in Washington.....

Let's see: Obama kept the Secretary of Defense from Bush....and every one of the politically appointed US Attorneys from the Bushes....and fired the chick who can tell chicken from chicken shit on the red carpet?


They probably also fired all the little old lady volunteers who hand-wrote thank-you letters to all the visitors and for all the gifts sent to the White House. They probably have a high-tech firm send out printed letters. So much more sustainable and efficient.

Believe me.....don't let Republicans run your war, but don't let Democrats anywhere near your State Dinner. They don't know fish fork from oyster fork....and they are prone to fake Rolex's and Thom McCann's. When it comes to parties, Democrats could fuck up a wet dream. Plus, they don't know when to leave.

I think Obama missed a key appointment when he failed to hire Ray Krenske (aka "The Radiator" as the door guy at the White House.

Ray worked for us for 20 years....and has since retired to Denver. Ray was fired from virtually every service establishment (Mediterranean Market, Nielsen's, DoReMi, Thunderbird, Bird of Paradise, Grapes of Wrath, etc )on the Peninsula for being rude to the public. Actually, Ray was never rude.....Ray just did not suffer fools.....or rudeness....gladly. He would have spotted the Salahi's at fifty paces.....

Ray was a discalced monk....and a theatre buff and professor. Ray was straight out of Gosford Park. Some would say,not so straight..... but not me.

Classic Ray: Pebble Beach fancy dinner party with Peter Ueberoth, Arnold Palmer and various CEO's in attendance. A scattering of locals and press were invited for cocktails before dinner, but dinner was for 12.....period. Place settings, china, flowers, menu to match all of the above decided months before.

The writer from Forbes Magazine failed to leave on cue at 7:45, and seemed very comfortable sitting on the couch in front of the fire overlooking Cypress Point with a Waterford crystal tumbler of Glenmorangie in his hand.

The hostess was stressing: Cypress Point rules decree that dinner must be served by 8:04. Forbes boy was still there, and immune from all her subtleties. We turned Ray loose.

Ray came into the family room, and in his most imperious voice announced: "Dinner is served.....for all the invited guests."

Forbesy actually got up and made a move for the dining room. Ray gripped him firmly by the arm and steered him to the coat closet and the front door.

"Sir, I am sure you have somewhere wonderful to go to just now......"

"Well, actually......I don't."

Ray...handing him his coat and shoving him firmly through the front door......into the pouring rain.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Con te partiro.....

This is a post from last month....I thought it was long and boring. Sorry.

So….a couple of times in my life I have been awestruck by music.

Awe struck….as in gap-mouthed, dumb and drooling…..“struck by lightning”…..full on, melt down….Like the apes in “2001”. Uhhh….that was a movie back in the day, before the whole plane-crashing thing.

I was an electrical engineer once… The last class I failed at Cornell in the EE school was taught by Robert Moog….he of the synthesizer, and brake/alignment fame. I learned that Middle E is 400 cycles per second. A square wave sounds like a clarinet. Turn it up loud enough and it will move you……even if you are a rock.

Hence my early music movements: the Allman Brothers live at the Fillmore East… the Airplane, same venue. Jeff Beck. Drugs may have been involved. Crazy decibels certainly were.

I grew up as the son of a crazy, violent, abusive, schizophrenic, drunken banker who loved classical music. Pops would come home from the train….grab a bottle of Boodles, retire to the den and blast Mozart and opera until he passed out under his New Yorker magazine.

Classical music, banking……and gin…. have never been my favorites……..

After my various and many failures in engineering…..I found myself adrift in the kitchens and cellars of Europe after graduation. Burgundy. Switzerland. Greece. Turkey. Croatia. Kosovo, even. And….Austria. Separated from my childhood sweetheart, Jane….recovering from a broken heart or a broken head. Hard to tell the difference.

I used to work in Vienna at Demel’s….the place that claims to have the real Sacher Torte recipe. (Ggg-grandpa Demel worked at the Hotel Sacher, created the cake….. and they didn’t pay him or whatever. He bailed with the recipe 150 years ago, and the battle over Sacher authenticity continues to this day.

This is how crazy I was/am: I was working in Kitzbuhel in a fancy restaurant from 4pm till 4am....then skiing all day on the mountain. I had no money so I could only afford about eight bucks a day. Eight bucks on the mountain got you a slice of Sacher Torte and a viertel of gluwein……a quarter liter of hot, spiced wine with a good shot of Inlander rum in it. Nutrition according to a 23 year old.

I fell into Sachertorte and gluhwein when I was accidentally in a bar on the mountain when Princess Caroline of Monaco swept in with her entourage. Caroline was the most beautiful, radiant human I had ever beheld….plus, she was a dead ringer for Jane. Princess ordered Sachertorte and a viertel gluhwein…….I was hooked.

I was also crazy. I worked all night, skied all day….and in the wee hours of the night conducted a contest in my mind for “Greatest Novel of the 20th Century” between “Sometimes A Great Notion” and “Gravity’s Rainbow”. I read them both cover to cover twice in a row in my spare time that winter. And played on a local hockey team.

No wonder I was single and depressed.

I was so hooked by the Caroline/Jane/Sachertorte/gluhwein thing that I finally quit my job in Kitzbuhel and moved to Vienna to work at Demel’s. Did I think Caroline or Jane would show up? Did I think I would master Sachertorte’s and win the love of Caroline/Jane? Who knows.

Anyway, Vienna was brutal in the winter, especially after a 16 hour shift that netted eight bucks……I hauled bags of flour in from the street, up and down stairs…and did all manner of menial jobs just short of the vile Jugoslavian dish dogs.

After work I would always go two blocks to the Augustiner Keller….. if they were still open. (6.5 days a week, two shifts we worked)….a 500 year old bar next to the palace in Old Vienna. I would hang with old ladies like we have in Cachagua….hardworking, classy, bitter, vicious….only these old ladies had worked for the Kaiser….before WWI.

Next to the Augustiner Keller was the Augstiner Kirche… old church, part of the Hofberg (Palace) complex of the old Kaisers.

I grew up a hard-core Catholic…the bishop’s altar boy… I have had all of Roman Catholic orthodoxy beaten into me. I can still run the entire Latin Mass out loud, or in my sleep….both the priest’s part and the altar boy’s part: “Introibo ad altare Dei.” “ Ad deum qui laetificat, juventutem meum.”

I will go to the altar of God… God, the joy of my youth.


I still have all the hymns in Latin: “Tantum ergo, sacramentum……”, etc. running through my head....

Which is only coincidentally the tune to the Nazi Germans’ national anthem.

So.....on a given night in 1972 in Vienna on my half day off on Sunday…..with no money in my pocket and snow pouring down and my crappy room a two mile hike away.........I turned into the Augustiner Kirche after a visit to the Keller.

“The preacher likes the cold…..he knows I’m goin’ to stay....”

Introibo ad altare dei.......Indeed.

They were doing a Mozart Mass. The place was packed and I was late and a little drunk….so I sneaked up onto the altar and sat out of the way in a spot where I knew no one would notice me. I grabbed a program......which turned out to be the entire score of the Mass.

Mozart wrote the Mass in the Augustiner Kirche….using the Augustiner Kirche’s organ to diddle about and create the piece.

There was a big choir, an orchaestra......and the same damn organ Mozart had originally used to write the Mass.

I had the score….so I could watch everything unfold as it was written out centuries past:: each voice, each instrument......everything.

Sitting on the altar I watched the notes crawl across the printed page as the choir and the band set up a sonic and emotional resonance in the old church that gave me glimpses of things I had never before imagined or felt.

The engineer in me responded to the organization…..the incredibly detailed aspect of one man writing things down on paper that could transmit crazy emotion and knowledge across centuries….instructions for fifty people to follow 200 years after his death to essentially bring him back to life.

It brought everything together for me……the music, the math, the architecture, my dad, the insane work level, the crushing weather…..the refuge of the church. The little frozen, desiccated nugget that was my soul warmed, expanded…..and flew.

I wept quietly and secretly there in my shadow on the altar.....

I got it.

I remember walking home that night and laughing to myself about how cold it must have been to have tears actually freeze on my face.....

So….on to tonight.

We are at the bitter end of a long season. By Friday, we will have done 20 parties in a week. This week alone we have had 15 in four days. We are staggering, fucked and done…..We maintain our sense of professionalism at the expense of our bodies and our souls. Everyone tells us that we are lucky to be busy….and we are too tired to realize that they are dummies and this is all random chance and we will be fucked and broke next month.

Tonight….on our fourth party of the day... we did a fundraiser for Big Sur Land Trust in a house in Carmel. It was sketchy even to have power in Carmel today….and even sketchier to have a Cachagua caterer come 25 miles to town over a winding mountain pass to work after the biggest storm in 40 years.

Big Sur Land Trust event: some piano guy with a concert and board members and major donors. 30pp for apps for an hour, followed by the music. 5:30pm start....with luck we can be gone by 7pm. Please, Jesus….

Upon arrival there is some turmoil in the house. The hot water heater is out. A nice older man is trying to light it and failing. Lee tries to help him.....and fails. The guy just wants a shower, but we come from Cachagua where the storm has taken all of our plumbing out….no water, hot or cold….and no drainage, no sewage, no toilets…..and 36 consecutive 16 hour days without a break. We maintain a barely professional recognition of the gentleman’s lack of hot shower.....We call a plumber.

The household starts to arrive…..BSLT people, the host…who is not the shower guy it turns out....and a beautiful woman who comes in to check out the food. She is from Seattle and loves oysters and champagne. She is a Virgo....August 24….and each year she and her brother buy a bushel of oysters and drink themselves silly and cut their hands up celebrating. She is the cello accompanist for the piano guy….who is the shower guy, it turns out.

I am smitten: who is from Seattle, loves champagne, loves oysters and can and does shuck her own in the hundreds range.

Her name is Wendy. Instantly trying to forget the Seattle band, The Odds, song about a Wendy...

So.....”Who is the piano guy with the shower problem?” I ask….

“Phillip Glass.”

Should I know him?

Wendy laughs hysterically and goes off to her room……

Well.....Wendy is Wendy Sutter, and Phillip is Phillip Glass. Wendy started with the Seattle Philharmonic at 16 and now teaches at Columbia after studying at Julliard, etc, etc, etc.

Philip Glass is Phillip Glass.

Wendy is packing a 450 year old cello built by the guy who taught Stradivarius how to build cellos and violins. The cello has the bed in the guest room. The cello is worth 10 million dollars.

Trying to rally…..I ask Wendy about her bows for the cello. Old Jack from Pine Valley builds bows for Yo Yo Ma, and I wonder if she has heard of Jack.

“Well….there are a lot of bow-makers. Sorry. Bows are kind of dime a dozen compared to the instruments. I don’t mean to be disrespectful of your friend….”


“So….where did your bow come from, and……what do bows cost?”

Italy. This one I use for traveling and I got a great deal on it. It was only 17,000 euros. I think I can resell it for 25k eu.”

No wonder a couple of cello bows can keep Pine Valley Jack in beans and rice for a decade or two….

Sufficiently humiliated…we wait for the show to start. Guests arrive and are fed. We manage to get some crab and oysters into Wendy despite her normal pre-concert fasting routine. Phil is a vegetarian….but indulges as well.

Then they play……

A tape of the concert exists….we sat behind the camera. Phillip played an Etude #2, and something else #2. He ran circles and poems around our heads….toyed with us and dazzled us.

Then, Wendy played a solo something that reminded me of Greg Brown…. Or Tom Waits. Growly, grumpy, bassy…..and ultimately deeply moving… hearing your granpa talk about courting your granma on the race train to the Derby.

Anyone who thinks that modern technology has all the answers has not met Wendy and her 450 year old cello. Willow wood sides. I forget the wood in front. There is a stainless steel brace where the foot is installed….but everything else is 16th century. The sound that she brings from that old willow is beyond 16th century….it is preternatural.

I learned about resonance as an engineer…..and the music and the sound resonated in that room on levels unimaginable. I don’t have the words…..but once again I was reminded that I have a soul….and once again that dessicated little fucker flew……

Con te partirò.
Paesi che non ho mai
veduto e vissuto con te,
adesso si li vivrò,
Con te partirò
su navi per mari
che, io lo so,
no, no, non esistono più,
con te io li vivrò.

No shit….Paesi che non ho mai…..indeed. Su navi per mari che io lo so non esistono piu…..

Yup. Countries I never saw…..and seas which I know exist no more.

Thanks, Wendy…..

The best part?

When the recital was done, Wendy bee-lined it to the kitchen for some bubbly and some shellfish. I stuttered and babbled…..but she was just another pro, back in the kitchen with the other worker bees.

“God…..that was awful.”

WTF? It was supernatural......

“No….the music was OK….It is just having all those people so close to me. Normally there is a big stage, and I can work with my instrument by myself in my own bubble. But all these people were right on TOP of me…..It was weird.”

As the guy who inaugurated his 60th year on the planet by screaming at nice old lady to “get the fuck out of my kitchen”……

I could relate.

Princess Caroline and Mozart….move over.

I wonder what Wendy thinks about Sachertorte?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Blessed Ollie vs. Blessed Harold

I will do almost anything to avoid bookkeeping.....this, for instance.

I didn't go get my H1N1 flu shot Saturday.

For me this is epic, since I am old.....and have no spleen.

Lacy Buck once asked me: "Where is your spleen, anyway?"

"Well, Lacy.....mine is in the dumpster behind Community Hospital....."

This means I am at an increased risk of dying from pneumonia and flu, so I always get the seasonal flu vaccine. Usually it is me and the other altekochers at the Carmel Red Cross. I like going there because that crowd still calls me "Sonny".

I was trained as an engineer, long before I ever lifted a knife or a sautee pan in anger. Part of our training was deep immersion in statistics. Electrical engineering at a high level is all about chance....aka quantum theory.

Also, I have this deep reverence for actual facts. Whole new worlds opened up for me when Harold McGee explained to me that custards need to reach 180 degrees F for the proteins in the egg yolks to unfold and make a thick sauce. Before that my Irish Catholic soul was tortured for 40 years trying to decide when the custard was hot enough to "coat the back of a spoon". WTF? What kind of spoon? Wood? Stainless? Big? Small? What kind of coating....the fucking stuff coats a spoon at room temperature, for chrissakes! I would actually sometimes pray to Blessed Oliver Plunkett to give me the wisdom to figure out when the four different spoons I had in the fucking creme anglaise coated them sufficiently that the chef would not kick my ass and take away my only half-day off because the custard was not firm enough. Good ol' Blessed Ollie (an Irish bishop hung, drawn and quartered by the Brits 300 years ago....whose head is on display in Drogheda, and which head still bleeds on the anniversary of his beheading)....... but no offense old guy.....I much prefer Blessed Harold.

Anyway, I am not one of those hippy whack jobs who refuse vaccination because the vaccine causes autism.....or the vaccine is a government plot. (Well....actually, it turns out......)

Believe me....having just spent $5,000 saving my new puppy from parvovirus (the second puppy we have gone through this with!) because dipshit, redneck, hippy fuckwads in Cachagua don't vaccinate their dogs against ANYTHING......I am a big fan of vaccines. I am old enough to have been in the first waves of polio shots back in the day. Some of the kids in our school who opted out.....not so lucky.

So it is with some distress that I discover actual facts about the H1N1 vaccine. From here on out I am gleefully plagiarizing/summarizing an article from this month's a really excellent reporter, Sharon Brownlee, who specializes in health care.

1) Flu vaccination supposedly cuts the risk of death during flu season by 50%.

Ooops, no one has ever done a controlled study. Hundreds of millions of people get vaccinated. Flu kills mostly old people...and sick babies. It is very hard to determine who actually dies of flu....any old person who dies of something lung related is labeled a flu death. Flu often weakens the body so that one dies of other causes....pnuemonia, heart disease, etc. Almost never do families or hospitals do a culture to discover the real culprit. Why bother? Granny is dead.

Even if you take all elderly deaths by anything remotely close to flu.....flu deaths account for a maximum of 10% of elderly deaths. That means to get a decrease in death rates of 50% in the whole population.....flu vaccine has to protect you from dying of a stroke, cancer...or getting hit by a bus. This is some vaccine!

It turns out that the studies that yielded the 50% number are cohort studies......all the million billion people who got vaccinated vs. the cohort of a million billion people who didn't. Guess what? People who decide to get vaccinated are younger and healthier and more health concious than the opposing cohort to begin they die 50% less, with or without the vaccine.

Actually, 60% less.

If you don't buy that argument, how about this one: Each year the governments of the world and the various health organizations agree on the three strains of flu most likely to emerge each season, and prepare vaccines accordingly. In 1968 and 1997 they fucked up, and got the mix wrong. None of the expected strains appeared....others did. one got vaccinated. The death rate didn't change.

In 2004, the production got screwed this year....and 40% less folks were vaccinated. No change in death rates.

Back in 1989, before the big government push to vaccinate the entire population.....only 15% of folks over 65 were vaccinated. This compares to 65% now. The death rates were actually lower in 1989 than today.

2) Flu vaccine protects the body from getting the flu, or getting as sick:

Well, not so much. Flu vaccine works really great with young people, with a really good antibody response. The antibody response drops as we age. Over 70, and there is not a very good response to vaccines.....and these are the people that mostly die. we vaccinate people who are young and healthy who aren't likely to die anyway....because the vaccine works swell? And, do we vaccinate us altekochers even if it doesn't really work?

3) Let's have a study!

The obvious response to this is to do a double-blind study like they do for all other pharmeceuticals. Get a couple hundred thousand people, vaccinate them. Get another couple hundred thousand, shoot 'em up with water. Wait till the end of flu season and see how many of each group are left....or the severity of flu in both groups.

This has never been done. Why? Because everyone is so sure that the vaccine works, they think it would be unethical not to give it to a test group of people because they might die!

This kind of reasoning led to centuries of crazy medical practices. Leeches come to mind....though leeches are making a comeback. How about not swimming for an hour after lunch?

The most egregious example of bad medicine becoming the norm was breast cancer treatment in the 80's and 90's. The perceived wisdom back then was to give high dose chemo and radiation and follow up with a bone marrow transplant. No one would do a clinical trial to test whether it work supposedly worked! Not doing it to a control group would kill them. It was not until 2000 that some Canadians did a trial and discovered that the transplants were actually killing all those poor women, not breast cancer.

When I bought my property back in the day, my neighbor was a rich dentist who put up a palace with a vanity vineyard. And a big wire fence to keep us white trash out. My wife was a city girl, and paranoid about hugger-muggers sneaking into our property and doing whatever hugger-muggers do. I bought an alarm system....but I also bought 3,000 spiky African orange trees. These trees had serious, four inch spikes all over them. I had read that the Nixon San Clemente White House had installed hedges of these trees to repel intruders. Apparently Africans planted hedges of them around villages to keep out elephants or rhinos or something. Maybe to keep out rich, white yuppies with cameras.....whatever.

One day, I was out laboriously planting my African oranges all along the property line (and even more laboriously supplying them with drip irrigation) while the dentist was watching some Mexicans plant his chardonnay (on the north side of the hill in the shade).

"What are you planting there?"

"African orange trees."

"What on Earth for?"

"Well, in Africa they keep out elephants and rhinos...."

"That's the stupidest thing I ever heard of. What a waste of time and money!"



"You seen any elephants or rhinos around since I put them in?"

3) Alright, screw the vaccine....I got my Tamiflu:

The US government's second line of defense is buying anti-virals.....Relenza and Tamiflu. These drugs actually attack the virus. We started stockpiling Tamiflu back in 2005 during the bird flu scare. President Bush asked for and got $1 billion for production and stockpiling....on top of the $1.8 billion already approved for purchases for Tamiflu use by the military by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The Tamiflu patent is held by a company called Gilead Sciences. Any guesses as to who was Chairman of Gilead until 2001? Donald Rumsfeld. He continues to hold stock in the company....whose stock went up 50% after the big purchases in 2005.

Well....if it works, who gives a shit....really. I spent $150 last week on Tamiflu for Little Puppy....and another $300 buying black market Tamiflu from an ER doc in 2007 to save Xabi from parvovirus.

Company press releases claim "Tamiflu significantly reduces the risk of death from influenza. New data shows a more than 2/3 reduction in deaths. Children with influenza are 53% less likely to contract pneumonia when treated with Tamiflu."

Turns out the study was flawed. Tamiflu is fucking expensive. Only yuppy fucks like me can afford it....and our kids, dogs, moms, wives and housekeepers are already in better shape than those poor slobs who can't afford it. Fuck 'em anyway.

Since then controlled studies have cast doubt on the whole Tamiflu experience. The company's own website is required by the post-Rumsfeld FDA to say: "Tamiflu has not been proven to have a positive impact on the potential consequences (such as hospitalizations, mortality, or economic impact (!!!)) of seasonal, avian or pandemic influenza." FDA is not aware of any data that support previous claims for Tamiflu.

In the real world, Tamiflu cuts symptoms of the flu by 24 hours. Oh, and by the way......yuppy fucks pouring down Tamiflu at the first sign of a hangover.....have already created a Tamiflu resistant strain of H1N1. It takes H1N1 only days to get around Tamiflu.

Oh, and among the side effects; 20% experience nausea and vomiting; 20% of children will have neuro-psychiatric side effects including anxiety and suicidal behavior. And there is a death from cardiac arrest thing....but not often. Only 50 people so far. In Japan.

4) Why not get a shot anyway, if it reduces symptoms and cuts the prevalence of the virus?

Because of the media hype....the "worried sick" are inundating hospital emergency rooms and flu-shot clinics. Most do not have H1N1, or if they have it they are not sick enough to be in a hospital. They waste the ER's time...and are literally killing people with real emergencies. Oh, and the sniffling crowds give each other the virus!

Proof again that there is a God.....and She has a Sense of humor.

5) What to actually do to lessen the effect of H1N1 and save your life:

You could go the vaccine/Tamiflu route....which is a lot like the Blessed Ollie route.

I am not poking fun here......I just spent a lot of time and energy and money on this with Little Puppy.

Here is my guy.....and Little Puppy is alive and back to getting fat and happy again.


If you believe in Saint Harold....the science guy.....

You could do boring, boring, boring stuff.

Boring stuff that actually works statistically.

Stuff like wash your hands a lot. A lot. Try to learn to not touch your face, eyes and nose......Your friends will thank you.

Don't shake hands with anyone, till May. Bow like a Japanese businessman. Hey, we learned to live without water glasses in restaurants, right?

If you can get a flu shot from your doctor, or somewhere without a crowd.....why not?
Stay out of crowds. Blessed Ollie accepts prayers outside of Church. And Christmas parties suck, anyway.

Do like the English, and get a Flu Buddy. If one of you gets sick...the other guy brings him food and meds so he doesn't have to leave the house. If you live in Cachagua, call the Store....we deliver. If you live in Nielsen's or Bruno's....they deliver. Safeway even delivers, supposedly.

That would keep you from actually having to have a friend.......

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Culinary Triangle....

This is a food-related post.

Claude Levi-Strauss passed over the border last Friday at the age of 100. He almost made it to 101.

Claude was a famous anthropologist....anyone bludgeoned into taking Anthro 101 has been forced to read Tristes Tropiques or the Savage Mind. I hope.

Claude was the kind of genius that is readily recognizable in physics, chemistry, etc. He looked at modern culture and saw a completely different rationale for the way we live, work......cook. Had he written prose fiction, he would have won a Nobel. As it was he inspired a whole new generation of philosophers who in turn inspired physicists, think not just outside the box, but outside the hexahedron.

Basically, Claude looked at nature and human culture and saw that we had been struggling to define our world in blacks and whites. Ones and zeros. True and false. Good and bad. Fun and boring. He blamed all this on Plato, and he probably had a point. Well, three points as it turns out.

Claude thought the human brain was actually organized to perceive, evaluate and act on three points of view. 1, 0, and not 1 or 0. Good, bad....and not good or bad.

Claude was the son of a painter who was classically educated in Paris at the Sorbonne. He fell in love with an ethnologist and wound up in Brazil for five years in the 30's. His observations of primitive Amazonian cultures were what lit him up.

Anyway, one of his big teaching points was the Culinary Triangle. He used this to push his point about the limiting nature of binary thought.

Raw and rotten on one team. Raw and smoked on another team. Smoked and rotten/fermented on a team and so on.

Here is the extended version.

Culture determines where any piece of food (being French, he is talking meat here, mostly) winds up on the triangle. With no cultural intervention you have raw....rotten.

Roasting Claude saw as a mostly male endeavor. The introduction of subtlety and complexity in the processing of food he saw as female. Boiling is female because it needs a pot, and what dumbass hunter is gonna make a pot? Smoking is on the female side of things because it does not involve heat. Both boiling and smoking preserve all the juices in a given joint...which Claude saw as female. Conservation. Ditto fermenting...a natural process that needs to be controlled to keep it from descending to rotten.

By the way....Claude noticed that the cannibals would roast their enemies....and boil their friends.

Levi-Strauss was an early hero of the feminist movement....a buddy of Simone de Beauvoir. Believe it or not, his thesis that women held an important position in the establishment of human culture was radical at the time.

Claude's book "The Savage Mind" written about his experiences in Brazil in the called in French "La Pensee Sauvage". As an illustration of his ping-pong thinking...."pensee" also means "pansy" as well as "thought" in French. Sauvage means "savage" as well as "wild" in the sense of uncultivated (riz sauvage is wild rice). So the title could be "Wild Pansies"....which was the title Claude wanted for the English edtion. Given his triangle thinking about everything, including is an untranslatable pun. French editions of "La Pensee Sauvage" still have a pansy on the cover.

Think in triangles.....hold two or three thoughts in your head at once. It is how we are wired.

Anyhow....back in the 60's and 70's when all this hit the universities and coffee shops of the world....many different types of people were listening. Dumbass crappy electrical engineering students working in French restaurants. Crazy, cocaine snorting young kids stuck in Dad's traditional restaurants in Barcelona and Denia. Sober, thoughtful philosophy students in Paris working in restaurants on the side to pay the rent. Whacky philosophy students in the Santa Cruz mountains. Automotive engineers in Torino who spent all their free time in restaurants and kitchens. Wack-job poetry students stuck in Mum and Da's pub outside London.

Levi-Strauss' philosophy...or more accurately, his branch of anthropology.....was called structuralism. He believed that the human brain was structured in a different way than was being exploited by modern European culture.

Levi-Strauss was so fucking smart that to follow his reasoning about anything requires a polymath education in linguistics, music, folklore, neurology, philosophy, mathmatics....and a well-caffeinated IQ of over 150. Personally, I found IV administration of
upper Amazonian alkaloids seconds before class to be useful to be barely able to keep up and hang on for dear life as talk spun from phonemes to kinship charts to Plato and back to the campfire.

Instantly, the opposite thought process leaps to mind. Well, the mind of the upper Amazonian chemically
addled line chef.....the wacky philosopher Santa Cruz guy living in a guest house in a vineyard....the poet with a food science buddy.....the engineer feeling cut off from life.


Why am I doing any of this? Why do I have to use only a wooden spoon to whip in the 16 eggs into the pate-a-choux? Why are we sauteeing salmon when cold smoking it preserves all the texture, moisture and flavor? What is the difference between holding something in a bain-marie, and flash finishing it at the end? Why are all the women in the pastry and salad kitchen and all the men on the line?

It seems silly now....but I spent hours trying master tucking the tail of a perfectly trimmed branch of parsley under the curled anchovy caper garnish so the chef wouldn't notice the tucked tail and so the wind of the opening walk-in door wouldn't blow the parsley on 100 canapes all over the place. I almost always failed, and had to redo hours of work to make it look like it always had....and the wind from opening the walk-in door would ruin everything and cause all the work to be done twice.

This was cooking in the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's....most places. In Monterey, it is still the way.

Other places, chefs and servers think about every possible aspect of each ingredient in each dish. The concept that boiling and steaming is feminine is a given. Cultural aspects of every ingredient and every process involved in preparing a dish are examined upside down, backwards and forwards. What is it about the combination of these flavors and textures that can we analyze it, take it apart and put it back together in a way that makes people think.....and enjoy it even more for the thought process.

Anyway.....If you are ever in France in the spring or summer and are lucky enough to eat at Michel Bras in Laguigole.....or you eat at Arzak or Akelarre or Mugaritz in San Sebastian with guys inspired by Michel Bras...or if you ever are on the east coast of Spain and eat at El Bulli, or any of the dozen other places Feran Adria's apprentices have opened...if you ever eat at Manresa in Los Gatos....if you ever drink Randall Graham's wines from Bonny Doon....if you are ever lucky enough to eat at The Fat Duck outside London, or La Locanda de Tamerici in Ameglia in Italy.....or even at the Cachagua will be participating in the wonderful legacy of Claude Levi-Strauss.

Today was my first Saturday off in six months. I still had to go in and turn some gorgeous halibut and some spot prawns that Les had caught for Dickie Springs' wake into a ceviche. When I dropped off the dish at the Community Center, all the men were gathered around the bbq's roasting steaks and pig. The women were inside laying out the pasta salads.

Here's to you, Claude!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Republican Pride....

For years I have claimed to be a Republican.....and for years I actually was.

I loved being in touch with the base. In primaries I got to vote for folks like Evelle Younger for Governor, and whack job John Birchers from Orange County. Peter Neuman, the Dick Chaney of the Monterey County Republicans, was the guy who finally outed me. He actually checked the registrar of voters. Oops.

When people would drop their jaws in amazement at this seemingly liberal, long-haired crypto-Republican I would say: "Yup, I'm a Republican. And IRISH Republican.....we have our own Army."

But, really.....I always was a Republican. We had to hide this fact from my Irish grandparents. Grandpa was a union ship's carpenter. He actually transcended unionism. He started his apprenticeship around the turn of the century.....last century. All the work was done by hand, and the apprentices got the shitty jobs, just like in kitchens. Instead of peeling shrimp or garlic, Gramps got to plane boards. For 16 hours a day, 6.5 days a week. The way the apprentices held the hand planers involved tweaking their little fingers in inhuman directions. After four or five years of planing boards, their fingers were permanently bent under their palms. Even an 18 year old didn't need to show a union card or resume to get a job. The interview was all over at the handshake.

(I used this bit of history to save thirty bucks last week! I was in Williams-Sonoma buying a nice Shin knife for my friend DJ, and without ID, checks, cards.....nada. Cash only. I told the chick at the register to give me the chef's discount.

"How do I know you are a chef?"

I showed her my forearms........

Forty years of cuts, burns, slashes and gashes gets you 20% some places....)

Anyway, back in the 50's my parents were was a precinct worker in Orange County for chrissakes. We had to hide this from Gramps, who was working at the VanCamps cannery on Terminal Island as a Union Carpenter. I blew the whole scene for my folks when I piped up at Sunday dinner in Redondo: "I like Ike!" I still remember the dead, dead silence that followed.

I came upon my Republicanism naturally...even genetically. My great-great grandfather....Publius Virgilius Jones (I am so bummed not to have a photo for you) was there at the founding of the Republican party in Jefferson County, Ohio in the 1850's.

In 1960 my school in Anaheim had a mock election. I was Richard Nixon, and my best friend was Jack Kennedy. His mom was named Jacque, and my mom is Pat, so it was very cute. I won in a landslide and actually got to shake the real loser, Nixon's, hand at one point.

I stayed Republican even in college at Cornell in the 60's. My Dad and I were the only two Republicans registered in our precinct. One year when I was booted out of school I got a job as a precinct watcher..... to check on those pesky Democrats denying Republicans their rights to vote. When my Dad dropped me off at 7am, and we both voted...... my work was done. I spent the rest of the day reading "Confederate General From Big Sur" and choking with stifled laughter. Snot even flew from my nose at one point....thereby confirming the Democrats' impression of the perverse nature of all Republicans.

My affiliation didn't stop me from demonstrating against the War, and John Mitchell's "No Knock". I wasn't a Nixon Republican any more....I was a Margaret Chase Smith guy...a John V. Lindsay Republican.....
a Nelson Rockefeller guy. Back then Republicans were Republicans. No one bitched about affairs with interns.....Nelson didn't just grope his interns, he actually DIED fucking one.

Believe it or not, there was a time when rich, successful Republicans embraced noblesse oblige. They thought that a big tent was good.....and helping the working man succeed in life would help the whole nation succeed. Republicans fought political corruption and fought the idea of corporate control of the reins of power in America.

I still like Ike. I am still a Republican at heart.

I am no fan of government interference in business. The only reason I am working in Cachagua now is because Monterey County government is stupid and fucked beyond all reason....but hey, it is working out.

But last week, my 14 year old bus girl (we will ignore the fact that it is actually illegal for me to hire a 14 year old. Exploiting child labor is a Republican specialty.....) broke a tooth at school. She kept it quiet....since she is essentially homeless because her mom is a polar bear (Cachagua slang for a 5150 bipolar person). Mom is the rare non-drug addicted, non-alcoholic polar bear....she is nice and funny. She just has to spend half the month shut in a dark room sobbing....which is hard to express in a job application.

Anyway, Jazmyn dealt with the pain of the tooth. She didn't even have ibuprofen, since their most recent ex-landlord had claimed their jar against back rent. When the tooth abcessed, Jaz hung in there and kept going to school,.......but called in sick for Monday Night.

Of course, no health care for hardworking 14 year old, smart girls in America.....the greatest country on Earth. So.....I called Pastor Ben, who found an actual Christian dentist....I gave Jazmyn a Vicodin, a Costco jar of ibuprofen, a hundred bucks, and the night off.

Employer sponsored health care?

What kind of country do we have where a 14 year old girl has no expectation that her physical health is of any interest to the society she works so hard for?

Jazmyn is a Republican, too. She takes nothing she doesn't earn herself. She is 14, in school, and the only employed person in her family. She works her ass off with a smile, never says no to any task.....and I am afraid may hinge some of her self-worth and self esteem on how not rich her family is.

Oh, yeah.....Jazmyn popped some ibuprofen, half the Vikey.....and worked her shift at the Store. Took home eighty bucks.

Publius is pissed....but proud of the girl.

Ike, Publius V, Margaret, John V, Nelson and all those old-school dead Republicans are whirling in their tombs. The modern Republican party has finally disgraced itself beyond all recovery.

Today the leadership of the modern Republican Party held a "press event" in front of Nancy Pelosi's office to protest health care reform. This is one of their posters at their event. This is so wrong and foul I don't need to say a word about it.

Comparing the worst crime in modern history to fixing a tooth for the poster girl for the future Republican Party? These are not Republicans....they are pod-people. Not Americans....not even human.

Luckily I found a link to one of the last remaining real Republicans, Phillip Spooner. Of course, he is 87.....and will be dead soon. Of course, he lives in Maine....Margaret Chase Smith country.

If you can make it past the two minute mark without tearing up or getting pissed......I'm sorry.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Buddy, Can You Paradigm?

Hey....remember me? I used to write here from time to time.......

Before PARVO.....

Don't ask.....Second time in two years we have gone through the insane emotional (and financial) ups and downs of shepherding a puppy through parvovirus. Well, emotional ups and downs....the financial is just down. Three grand through Monday morning....

Anyway, I actually wanted to write about food. Shocking.

This summer and fall we were so busy that we actually lost control of our lives and our businesses....and just had to ride the wave.

Strange things happened. Just when we needed them, amazing hardworking caterfolk emerged from all sides. At times we had 30 professional caterers working around the clock....which compares favorably with the .5 professional caterer that we now have working around the clock.

Even more amazing was the food flood. We have long prided ourselves on our produce: everything is organic, and comes from the farmers' markets....or outfits like Serendipity or the Coke's. This involves lots of planning and communication....and lots of driving around and opening gates and lots of Spanish.

This year was different. We opened ourselves up to our new friends in Cachagua and said: "Just bring it....we'll buy it. Or trade for it."

A hurricane of insanely great produce ensued. Lyle and Joanie Linares taught us about mulberries, dozens of varieties of squashes, peppers, eggplants, herbs.....and buried us under them.
Ditto Rogelio and Johnny Kinder from James Creek Farm. Ditto Rich and Mary from Heller Estate. Alan Wheat....former soccer guy and landscape artist....brought a mountain of potatoes. We coulda made vodka......We even got apples from crackhead alkie sewer pumpers in exchange for beer and cigarettes that caused Pebble Beach folk to beg for recipes....

Micah's Apple Crisp with Jack Daniels Caramel:

Well, first you get 6 cups of chopped small, dry apples from crackhead alkie sewer pumpers who can't pay their booze bill. Make sure the tree is in the middle of the yard where the sewer truck parks....and close enough to the house that it is well irrigated with minimally digested Copenhagen and Coors Lite.........

And some weird tomato growing guys who show up at odd last night at 10pm. Just in time for the Monday Night staff to get the best Capreses and Panzanellas in weeks....

At the peak, we we took in 500 pounds of tomatoes a week.....and paid for almost nothing. Mary at Heller begged us to take away the tomatoes before they rotted. "Give them away in the Store. Just make sure they get eaten!"

One really amusing day....well, from a local politics standpoint, anyway.....Rich from Heller brought down two huge lugs of gorgeous, ripe tomatoes. "Don't tell Mary.....I am overflowing in the fucking things."

OK....I stashed them in our temperature controlled wine room. Mumm's the word.

Five minutes after Rich left, Mary from Heller arrived wit two huge lugs of tomatoes. "Michael...take these tomatoes. I am overflowing in the fucking things."

I know, I know......"Don't mention it to Rich......"

Five minutes later, Joanie arrived with more gorgeous tomatoes. "Take the fucking things.....oh, it looks like you have a ton already." Sad face.

I am now in the position of comforting a person who has worked her ass off for months to produce what are probably the best looking and tasting tomatoes on the planet that week......for giving them to me for free...and assuring her that really it is not an imposition.

Meanwhile, John and Rogelio arrive from James Creek. We have a standing deal to buy whatever they are willing to sell us.....just so they will be willing to sell us any of their amazing stuff.....ever.

More tomatoes.

Next up were the Rana Creekies.....same deal. They trade for dinner on Mondays......

Not to mention the two weird brothers.....I pay for their tomatoes even at the peak, just so I can get them when everyone else flails....

It was like the Katrina of heirloom, organic tomatoes. I spent hours each day just pushing tomatoes through a china hat. Amanda kept shouting: "Where is that retarded kid we should be hiring! You should be sending bills....not making tomato sauce!"

Have we talked about the basil? Thai, African, Opal, Genovese.......bales of it. Don't even bring up the fucking squash and peppers.

I felt like the sorcerer's apprentice of produce...... the middle of all this we did a seminar on holistic, sustainable grassland management. "How to Raise a Great Cow and Save the Planet." I met this funny guy.....George Work from San Miguel. George is from the same Work family as our local Work's......"except our branch of the family likes to actually Work for a we moved as far from Monterey as we could get as fast as we could." George is just the grandson of the original he must be a million years old. Either that or the working Work's breed late in life.

George is one of that kind of cattleman who has spent too much time talking to cows. When he gets around people, he can't shut up. George will pin you to the wall, and talk your ears right off your head.

George is the Central Coast version of Joel Salatin: holistic ranch management, local control, local market, sustainable ranching and farming practices.....and a weird kind of redneck holistic business guy who is pitching tickets to a pancake breakfast for a Chamber of Commerce in an alternate universe.

Ten years ago, George banged through the California Legislature the Agritourism bill. This allowed ranches and farms to take in tourists as guests, keep them overnight or for a week, and feed them at the ranch or farm. For decades the fuckheads at the California Restaurant Association, aided and abetted by horrible bureaucrats, had insisted that anyplace that served food for money had to be a licensed, professional, commercial restaurant unattached to any kind of living situation. Greek and Mexican dishwashers sleeping on stainless next to their machines didn't count.

Their are still insane regulatory hurdles to jump through.....but if you go to the website you can find tons of outfits around the State. Only one in Monterey County, but hey. If you search "California Farmstays" you will discover a tourist subculture right up there with quilters and rockhounds. George's place is here. This is an infant industry. Anyone who has travelled in Europe knows Agrotourismo. I could bore you with photos of our favorite Basque agro that would make you weep and lunge for your Mastercard......

George's vision keeps on running right past farmstays, though.

It turns out that the State of Kentucky has pioneered a law that allows home kitchens to can and preserve food commercially. They call it home processing or home microprocessing....depending on the acidity of whatever is being processed. Processors take classes sponsored by the UofK, the State, and the local county and get a license after passing the class. They get inspected by the locals and they are off and running. Canned and preserved stuff can be sold at farmers' markets, roadside stands, etc. Old family traditonal recipes wind up turning into products that people fight over....and income for folks who might be on the bubble.

This is in the Kentucky folk and ag tradition. My favorite heirloom tomato of all is "Radiator Charley's Mortgage Lifter".....really. It was developed by a guy named Charley who worked in a radiator shop in Kentucky or Tennessee generations ago....and who used proceeds from selling his tomatoes to help lift the burden of his monthly mortgage.

There is a long history of official government support for this kind of thing. The US government a hundred years ago recognized the value of safely saving crops and feeding people and a strong part of the local ag coop in every county in the US has always supported home grown agriculture and food production. In recent times this tradition has been drowned out by the roar of mega agribusiness....but the worker bees are still out there. Modern bureaucrats are facing a stark future....and enlightened ones are realizing that supporting home grown processing and agriculture actually helps justify and amplify their jobs.

George Work's passion for microprocessing isn't just about local foods and heritage is about crops, waste, hunger and poverty. My tomato Katrina was just our local mini Cachagua version of what happens everywhere in small farming.
At Serendipity at mid Valley it is the same story.......all the tomatoes ripen at once, and it is impossible for Jamie to market as much as half of her crop. All the rest gets the risk of inflating supply and cutting her prices....or composted. It is tons and tons of beautiful, organic fruit.....poured into the ground.

To me it is not just the waste of the actual food and the is all the prep, organization, hard work, water, fuel, supplies, rent, power that go into growing food that gets tossed because of our imperfect markets. Criminal naivete and stupidity on our part. Don't even get me started on the damage below our cultural waterline that our contempt for surplus labor and surplus living foods does. is my new paradigm: California.....or Monterey County.....passes a similar law, and sets up similar training and licensing. Microprocessor canned and preserved foods, dairy and cheeses, preserved and smoked meats and fish. Small batch beers, wines, grappa?

During the individual floods of each crop's peak harvest.....the moms, the grumpy, the crazy, the socially phobic, the disabled, the old......could can, dry, freeze and preserve a lot of that which is now tossed and composted.....and sell it later in the year. The money would lift mortgages....or expand gardens and make it actually worthwhile for moms, the grumpy, the crazy, the socially phobic, the disabled, the old to stay home and grow and care for things and raise food.

Our Farmer's Markets....which look like Eden just before the snake and the apple in August....might look less like Moscow's in the week before Christmas. Some of that we pour into the ground in summer we could put into local pockets in winter.

Fold in Agrotourismo....Farmstays. Picture coming to Cachagua, having dinner at The Store and enjoying local beers, wines, hams, sausages, smoked heirloom tomato pasta with local goat and sheep cheese...washed down with plum brandy from Rich at Heller....then retiring to James Creek

, or Joanie and Lyle's, or Heller's guest house, or the Lambert Ranch, or Nason's....or Rana Creek......Getting up in the morning and having coffee, pastries with local mulberry preserves and local eggs and bacon wherever you are...........and going for a horseback ride up the mountain....or a dove shoot, or a boar hunt....or a wildflower photo shoot with Joe Kovacs.....or any one of a dozen winetastings.....

Naw......that would suck.

Forget I spoke......