Category Archives: Food and drink

Foodies and Steak Rolendeli

Foodie is a dangerous term.  Foodies argue endlessly about the provenance of the oregano in a chef’s Sunday gravy, or bicker about the appropriate  number of pounds to press the espresso puck to pull a correct Americano.  Flame wars erupt amongst them about the proper use of Himalayan salt, or Nepalese salt, or Hawaiian lava salt and which goes correctly with organic wild basa, instead of farmed basa.

If we want ‘genuine’ Kerala Chicken Curry, we’ll go to Kerala and get it in Kerala from a sketchy street vendor, instead of arguing over the spice mixtures and whether the cocoanut milk is fresh or canned.  We approach food differently, eschewing the esoteric hipster-approved pseudo-experience of “genuine”or “authentic” cuisine, for things that Taste Good

To which we present something that Tastes Good.  It is called Steak Rolendeli.

In an Esquire article, Man At His Best, November 1990 the late Jim Enger described a dish of such remarkable beauty that we have kept the magazine, now stained with butter and meat juices and have actually prepared Steak Rolendeli three times.  Each time those around the table have been enthralled at the simplicity and beauty of the recipe and marked it as one of those meals that one remembers for a long, long time.  It will also make you a Kitchen Deity for years to come.  

Herewith, Steak Rolendeli.

Go to the butcher.  A real butcher that understands beef, not some gormless mook that merely stocks the racks with hermetically sealed pre-digested, pre-portioned cow parts.  Point at the sirloin steaks and ask to buy the primal cut that those steaks came from as one big whole.  Many butchers get their meat in big chunks and cut it down from the primal cut, usually packed in a Cryovac bag, from their meat distributor.  If you have a butcher that gets actual carcasses of beef, tell them you want the whole sirloin, cap on.  It should weigh about 17 to 20 pounds.  This will cost you more than $100, but it will be worth it.  Trust us.

Stop at the supermarket on the way home from the butcher, get two pounds of unsalted butter, two pounds of salted butter and three boxes of regular table salt.  Swing by the bread department and get two loaves of the best, crusty Italian or French bread you can wangle.  If you have a baker nearby get the two best they have in a crusty, white baguette or freeform loaf.

Salad?  Sure.  You can make a salad if you wish.  Nobody will eat it, but you can make it. 

Call up four to eight excellent friends with good appetites and get enough wine to go with this meal. Or beer, or bourbon.  Drinks are mandatory, but as to what, we’ll leave that to you.  Whatever goes with beef and is of a modest price is your objective.

At home, open the package from the butcher to gaze upon this hunk of meat.  You’ll need a sharp knife to take off the fat cDSC_5865ap (or if you butcher knows what you’re creating, will do it for you.  This is the time to have a very sharp knife.  You want to trim the fat cap down to where there is a thin layer of fat on the top side.  You might have to whittle the fat cap off in smaller pieces and it might take off a pound or two of weight, but you have plenty to work with. 

Place the whole thing in a turkey-sized roaster and let the meat come up to room temperature, which should take about an hour.  Meanwhile take those two loaves of bread and cut them into slices, perhaps on the thinner side.  Steak Rolendeli is about the meat, the bread is important, but thinner is better here.

Put your oven rack as far down as it will go and put the broiler on about 20 minutes before cooking to get the broiler screeching hot.  We have a gas broiler and it takes about 8 minutes to get to the point where you can sweat-solder copper pipe with it.  Yours might take a little longer to come up to full temp.  Obviously Steak Rolendeli will not work if your heat source is a $29.99 toaster oven from that fancy French store, Target.DSC_5886

Open one of the boxes of salt.  This is ordinary table salt, not kosher, or sea, or lava, or smoked. Simple table salt.  Pour it all over the top of the steak. All of it.  Every grain.  Tell your guests to hush as they will protest drowning a magnificent hunk of beef in a kilo of salt.  You are doing something brave and fantastic that will have your friends talking for years, licking their lips in fond remembrance and hushed reverence for your status as a Kitchen Deity.

Put the steak, salt side up, under the broiler and set the timer for 25 minutes.  Do not peek, as there is magic afoot!

While the meat is broiling, melt down the four pounds of butter in a pot that you would make a big batch of chili, or boil pasta in.  The pot should be big enough that the butter only comes up about half-way.  Get the butter melted and simmering, not boiling:  You should see the occasional bubble on the surface, not a full rolling boil, so go slowly.

Once the timer goes off, take out the Steak Rolendeli and chip off the burned salt crust.  It will come off in chunks, looking a little burned and hard, which is exactly what you want.  Toss the salt out and brush off any excess.  DSC_5924

Flip the meat over and pour another box of table salt over the uncooked side and return the steak to the broiler.  Set the timer to another 25 minutes and tell the now-yapping guests to shut up. These things take time.  Open another bottle, or tell a long pointless story about finding the recipe on an obscure blog run by a crazed Canadian up in Ottawa named Smitty, based on an article in Esquire in 1990, by a guy who loved fly fishing in the UP of Michigan.

When the timer goes off, the fun starts.  Bring out the meat and chip off the salt again, brushing off the excess that didn’t harden up.  Put the meat on a cutting board and chop it into fist-sized chunks.  You’ll see the meat is on the rare side of rare, perhaps even blue in the middle.  Plop one or two chunks into the pot, carefully, so as not to splash molten butter everywhere.  DSC_5943

Nominate one of your most trustworthy unindicted co-conspirators as the Runner, as he or she will be running plates of Steak Rolendeli to the table and acting as your able assistant.  Send your guests to the table and tell them to prepare themselves. 

Fish out the first chunk of meat from the butter. It should soak for about two minutes.  While you are slicing off pieces as thin as you can, your Runner is very lightly dipping one side of the bread in the butter and placing them on a platter. You cover the bread with razor thin slices of meat, cut against the grain.  As your Runner delivers a platter to the dining area, fish out another big chunk and drop another one into the butter.  The Runner will load the next platter with butter dipped bread and you will continue to slice off the meaty goodness.  Some rare, some medium and even some medium well, mixed across the bread slices will allow your guests to choose to their tastes.  DSC_5965

Those particularly fine pieces, with a bit of char that weren’t perfectly covered with salt?  Those are hoarded to one side of the cutting board for you and your Runner.  Dip, slice, place, run, repeat. 

You will notice a peculiar sound about the time the second platter arrives.  You won’t hear your guests griping, harping, or complaining.  You won’t hear good-natured bantering, laughter, or stories.  Perhaps you might hear the occasional clink of a glass or the elegant chirp of silverware on a plate.  You will hear a lot of silence and the comfortingly guttural sounds of people eating with lustful abandon.  With luck you might hear the tiny jingle of a belt-buckle being undone discreetly under the table. 

This is what you want. 

After the third or fourth platter, herd that stack of very choice cuts you’ve been hoarding on the corner of the cutting board onto a slice of dipped bread for your Runner.  This is their Just Reward. 

One last platter, this time asking your guests if they want very rare, rare, medium or well done and provision their bread as appropriate.  You may now enter the dining area to your well-deserved applause and adulation, your Runner discreetly sliding into place at their seat, with their own special plate of Steak Rolendeli.

What you have created, if you are of a culinary perspective, is a broiled, salt-crusted sirloin, finished by butter poaching.  The beef is not salty, perhaps the top 1/32nd of an inch is, but not any more than that.  The salt crusts under the heat of the broiler, trapping the juices in the meat, until you release them with that final quick poaching in butter.  Tender, juicy, flavourful, remarkable sirloin of beef, served simply on well-buttered and meat-juiced bread.

The other thing you have created is a memory for your guests of a meal they will not soon forget. 

You may now wear your jaunty crown as a Kitchen Deity which also entitles you to tell any obnoxious foodie to go climb a tree and hang themselves by their woolen hipster toque. 

We make food that tastes good.


This is our Thanksgiving Monday up here in Canada and each family tends to have slightly different celebrations.  They’re all based on the essentially pagan harvest festival, in that the crops are harvested, days are getting shorter and mornings are colder.  We figure we’ve got enough stuff put aside and hey, one last blowout before we go dark and cold for Winter.  That is the real root of Thanksgiving before it got all cluttered up with Pilgrims and the other political/religious zeal of long, long ago.

We did the usual on Sunday night, a fresh turkey, roasted crisp and moist, bread stuffing full of sage and onions.  Brussels sprouts, squash with butter and brown sugar, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and enough gravy to float a skiff.  There was also pie, an apple pie of delicacy and dimension that the leftovers had to be eaten Monday morning for breakfast.  That’s something to be thankful for:  I’m a grownup and I can, if I want to, choose to have apple pie and cheese for breakfast.  I did.  I feel no shame either, as there was fruit, carbs and protein in my meal.  Considering the better half had a leftover turkey, stuffing and cranberry sandwich for breakfast, makes it right.  Call it the Communion of the Leftovers.

Today, the ‘holiday’ Monday has been decreed a day for rest and relaxation.  That lead us to asking what are we giving thanks for?

Good food, of course, our health, some reasonable prosperity, our life together, our nefarious heathen cats and all the other people we’ve shared with over the years, be it laughter, or tears.  Wherever they are, know that we’re thankful and grateful for having shared something with them. 

As for you, dear reader?  Yes, we’re thankful for you too.  Reading is not a solitary occupation as there are always two people involved, the writer and the reader.  Your reading is your way of saying thanks for what we’ve written. 

There will always be more to come, we promise.

Doing A Canadian Dream I

The spousal unit and I have managed to live together in a real and legally binding manner for twenty-five years: September 24th 1988 was our wedding if you want to be precise about things.  We’re nothing if not romantics, so we decided that we should mark the occasion with something a bit out of the ordinary. 

Submitted for your approval, Doing A Canadian Dream, Part One. 

Canada, for those of you here and already know, is a damn big country.  For those readers in the US and elsewhere, we have a whole extra time zone and a half off the right side of the map of North America.  St. John’s Newfoundland is actually closer to London, England (2,326 miles) than Vancouver, British Columbia, which is 4,590 miles away.  So, being proud Canadians we decided to cross about 4/5ths of it in one go, but not the way you might think. 

From FL34 (34,000 feet) you don’t see much, even on a clear day with a window seat.  Marylou and I had talked for a number of years about flying to Vancouver and coming back on the train.  Yes, the train.  More specifically, getting a room on The Canadian, the only transcontinental train left in Canada.  To celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary, that is exactly what we did.

Thanks to some Aeroplan miles we flew Business Class from Ottawa to Vancouver for a couple of days’ sightseeing.  Vancouver is stunning of course, an international destination city usually in the Top Five of “Cities You Must See” lists.  Those who live on the West Coast have a way of living that is the envy of the rest of us in the country.  If you invite someone from Vancouver to dinner on Tuesday night at 7 pm, they’ll likely show up on Saturday at 11 am.  Relaxed is the key word and being exposed to the beauty of the mountains right outside the front door is exactly why.  Nobody rushes, nobody worries and nobody cares in the nicest way possible.  Conversely, in Toronto, entire families will cram 72 hours worth of ‘living’ into 23 hours and wonder why the hell you are sitting on your ass with a whole extra hour left over.  We’re looking at the city and the mountains is why. 

As for accommodation in Vancouver, we did some comparison shopping.  Three nights in a nice hotel, a Marriott, or three nights in the very best hotel:  The difference was barely $200 and using the anniversary excuse, we went luxe.  The Shangri-La is, undoubtedly the best hotel chain on the planet.  We’ve both stayed at various Four Seasons, Westin and W properties and they are very, very good, but the Vancouver Shangri-La has a reputation of beyond very, very good.  In keeping with their corporate heritage, there is no 4th or 13th floor in the hotel and the service is astounding.  Do we, modest Central Canadians that we are, deserve this level of luxury and attention?  Hell yeah!

Let’s put it this way, had we called up the concierge and asked for a live giraffe, the inflatable escape slide from a 747 and a crate of champagne with a dwarf as sommelier, dressed in full hula-girl costume all would have appeared within the hour.  That level of service is however, only part of it.  Other hotels offer that kind of service for their guests, usually with a tiny hint of smirking disdain and the oh-so slightly raised eyebrow that you are not really deserving of their level of service.  The Shangri-La?  No condescension, just a genuine, sincere willingness to be of service. 

As an example, we spoke with the concierge about where to go for our anniversary dinner on Monday night.  She recommended L’Abbattoir, made the reservations and even arranged for a cab to pick us up promptly at 7 pm.  Come 7, the valet pulls up in the house car, a Mercedes limousine and drives us to our restaurant in Gastown, completely gratis.  At breakfast that morning, the service manager brought us two luscious chocolate dipped strawberries, with “Happy 25th Anniversary” chocolatiered on the plate, again with their compliments.  Small, important touches that were sincere and heartfelt.  Even when we checked out Tuesday afternoon, the cab was late, so the valet pulled out the house Merc again and drove us to the train station, unbidden and very welcomed.  Training a service staff can only go so far.  The Shangri-La ensures they hire good-natured, caring people to begin with, then hones them to an edge of service perfection that is simply impeccable.

We did do other things in Vancouver.  Being downtown Marylou wanted to see some of the high-end stores, Tiffany & Co. being one of them.  We entered and were welcomed to look around by a courteous staff, one of whom asked the usual where are you from, what brings you to Van?  We explained our circumstance and bless her heart, she took an interest in Marylou.  Would you like to see some of our diamonds?  Marylou being all woman said what any woman would:  Yes please.  Out came a 5.2 carat engagement ring and Marylou was invited to try it on.  Her current engagement ring is a modest .50 carat, from 25 years ago and she does cherish it, but a chance to try on a monster from Tiffany & Co. does not come often.  And the price? $478,000.  No, we did not buy it.

However, we did, in our stroll down Robson, find ourselves outside of a silver store.  We did buy two silver bands, for less than $60 and I did get down on one knee to propose again, in the middle of the store, much to the tearful delight of the shopkeeper’s staff and customers.  She said yes.

Tuesday evening we presented ourselves, courtesy of The Shangri-La-La house car, to the Pacific Central Station, the departure point of The Canadian.  Via Rail, the entity that runs The Canadian, has baggage limits on their train.  As we had a two-person room, there is not really enough space to have all your luggage with you.  They recommend that you pare things down to what you would take as airline carryon and check the rest in the baggage car, without access to it for the remainder of your trip.  The reason is simple enough.

The Canadian cars are the stainless-clad streamline train cars you might imagine from a mid-50’s Hollywood thriller.  Originally built by the Budd Car Company, they are the height of technology from 1953, built for the Canadian Pacific Railroad, the CPR, one of the progenitors of Via Rail.  They have been overhauled.  Once.  That was to bring their mechanicals up to 1970’s standards.  This is not to say they are primitive, or dangerous but they are, well, Spartan. 

Our room, Car 211, E, was a standard two-person room.  That means you get bunk beds that fold up into the ceiling, exposing two seats for sitting during the day.  A toilet, not much bigger than your high school locker and a sink and mirror with running water take up one wall.  There are a few cubbyholes to store your toothbrush, a book and your carry-on luggage.  Adding a bag of chips means the room is full to bursting.  Naturally, it being The Canadian, everything is brushed stainless steel or institutional blue-grey enamel.  The beds are exactly six inches too narrow for two people to sleep in them, so I took to the top bunk most nights, clambering up a narrow ladder that seemed to take up all the air in the room.  Changing your mind means that one of you has to go out into the hallway to give the other some space to do it. 

Fortunately we do like each other and don’t mind the close proximity that the room requires, except that one morning I had one leg in her yoga pants and one arm through her bra as we both tried to change clothes at the same time.  This has happened rarely in our life together. 

More in Doing A Canadian Dream Part II as we start our transcontinental voyage.             

Easter Catch Up

Sorry about not posting sooner, but life intrudes once in a while. 

We’ve made it to Easter, Good Friday specifically and am sitting here puzzled. 

The meme of Good Friday for those of us who do the Judeo-Christian thang is a religious holiday commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus around AD 33.  It is preceded by Maundy Thursday, the day of the Last Supper and followed by Easter Sunday celebrating Jesus’ resurrection.  One would suppose nothing much happened on the Saturday, except getting the camel washed at a Sabbath Camel Wash, where you didn’t actually have to do anything, except walk the camel through and go to Temple.  Like Walter Sobchak, most folks back then didn’t roll on Shabbos either.

What is puzzling is the conjunction of marketing and occasion-hype with a religious holiday.  Here’s the story, as told by advertisers:  Easter Sunday all good children get chocolate eggs delivered by a rabbit or a ginormous chocolate mould of a bunny that weighs more than the kid.  Official colours are purple and fire-engine yellow, with a bale of chopped paper or plastic excelsior stuffing to ‘cushion’ the 14-pound chocolate eggs from damage. 

Or, the young ones search for brightly wrapped ‘eggs’ again hidden by the mysterious Easter Bunny all over the back yard, with the attendance of parents screaming fearsome encouragement at their offspring to find more than the other 3-year olds who can barely walk, let alone understand the confluence of bunny-egg-chocolate-purple-yellow-basket-uber-competition they’re being immersed in as a cultural touchstone of their faith.  Then we sit down to a massive meal that must feature ham and scalloped potatoes, otherwise what kind of shitheel parent are you, ignoring the whole pork-kosher thing.

Yeah, yeah, we get the bunny-fecundity-spring-renewal thing and wonder exactly why a manufactured spring ritual is now tied to the peak of the holy story of crucifixion-resurrection-redemption of one of the bigger religions out there.  It sits poorly.  There’s no marketing tie-in with March Madness college hoops, uncontrolled sports wagering and specials on carpet, siding or replacement windows at special prices to celebrate some guy getting nailed on a cross a long time ago? 

Heck, if all we wanted to celebrate was an execution, Gary Gilmore was executed January 17th 1977 and we could use the energy to lasso in some last-of-Christmas season sales by pairing a cute groundhog mascot with Little Debbie cakes (Gilmore Dusties!) as a swing-holiday between Christmas and Groundhog Day on Feb 2.  Dammit, Stella, get me the Coast!  We got us a movie-tie and merch to move!

For those of us who have a clue, we are left shaking our heads while the neighbour’s kids carom off the second floor siding, in the grips of a sugar-buzz that would stun a buffalo.  At least there’s a holiday out of the deal. 

Pennies and Cheese

There were a couple of stories in the news here that piqued our writing fingers.  One, is the end of the one cent piece as circulated coinage in Canada.  Since 1858 the one cent coin has endured its’ lot in jars, wedged under table legs, rattling around in the car, or simply being used as a counter for various games.  As of February 4th, Banks are no longer sending out rolls of pennies as part of the coin order for retail outlets.  They stopped minting the one cent piece last year and now they will be falling from circulation. 

Electronic transactions will still be totalled to the cent, but cash transactions will be rounded up, or down to the nearest five cents when it comes to getting your change.  The reason is simple enough, the government saves $11 million dollars by no longer producing the smallest coin of the realm.  Over the next few decades you will hear the old codgers bemoaning the penny.  I will add a small postscript now and leave it to future generations to colour in the rest of it.

It used to be that empty glass pop bottles had a two cent deposit.  As a kid we would collect them from construction sites around the neighbourhood.  Pure Spring bottles were my favourite, as were the voluptuous green glass Gini bottles.  To replicate the taste of Gini, wrap a fresh lemon around a brick and smash yourself in the mouth a couple of times.  Only grown-ups drank Gini, usually mixed with gin, over ice in the summer; for us it was root beer or the red Swiss Cream soda. 

With our two, or three empty pop bottles, we would go to either the Elmvale or Arch Street convenience store.  There, arrayed for our pleasure, was penny candy.  Blackballs were usually the target, two for one cent, which meant with a good days’ hunting for empties, you could have four, or even six blackballs to stain your mouth the colour of coal. 

None of this was done under parental supervision, or organized in any way by adults.  No special equipment was required, nor lessons from a Romanian semi-pro tutor.  There were no medals for participation.  It was our introduction to capitalism.  If you had a good day, you got more.  If you didn’t find any, you got bupkis and relied on the good graces of a friend to give you a blackball or a sour baby.  You learned the value of a penny, which to a six year old, is almost inestimable, as it meant the freedom to choose what kind of candy you would buy with your own money, from the sweat of your efforts.

The St. Albert Cheese Cooperative has been making cheese since 1894.  It was one of the first farmer-based co-ops, the farmers owning the cows and providing the milk to the dairy to make cheese.  St. Albert’s has thrived all these years as a local co-op through globalization, quotas, marketing boards and other economic disasters, as their cheese is exemplary.  It was exemplary because it was made from milk from cows around St. Albert, about a 40 minute drive east of Ottawa.  Every day trucks would arrive with the milk and every day they would create the most astounding things from it. 

Cheese is not a complicated product to make adequately.  Mega corporations like Kraft or Saputo make tons of it daily, packaging it to serve the common tastes of the common man with something perfectly adequate.  St. Albert Cheese was never adequate.  It was always special. 

For those of you who have never had cheese curds, the backstory is important.  After milk is coagulated in a cheese tank with heat, colouring, salt and rennet, the lumps of protein coalesce into the curly globs of solidified protein called curds and the liquid left over, called whey. 

Yes, like Little Miss Muffet.  Curds and whey are basically cottage cheese, with the solids and the liquids together.  After cheddaring, if you drain off the whey, you are left with curds, that are eventually pressed into blocks and become cheese.  Apply a bit of heat and you get the curds to melt together to form that lump of cheese you can call Cracker Barrel.  Perfectly acceptable as a foodstuff.  Age it for a while and you can even get the foodies to go all gushy about your stuff.

Where the magic lives is in the curds.  If you scoop out bags full of the curds, they are still warm and salty from cheese-making with a little bit of whey left over, clinging determinedly to the solids.  Curds squeak against your teeth when you bite them and they have to be fresh, as in made that morning, or perhaps yesterday.  Fresh and never refrigerated either.  Cold kills the squeakiness and crushes the salty-whey tang of real, fresh, warmish curds fresh from the vat.

You can buy perfectly acceptable cheese curds, but they have been almost always refrigerated, made last August by some agro-conglomerate owned by a Brazilian oligarch who wouldn’t know cheese from a freighter of Vanadium ore.  They are unacceptable, even in Wisconsin, unless you go directly to the factory and get them the day they are made, if they are allowed to sell them.  In Ontario, you can sell cheese curds, unrefrigerated, as nature intended. 

In the past, when there were a few small cheese factories around Ottawa in beautiful rural areas, we would load up in various cars and drive, ostensibly to obtain curds.  One particular Cheese Run, many years ago involved a 5.0/5-speed Mustang, a V-6 Fiero and a 2.3 liter Dodge Lancer followed by a vintage ‘68 Lotus Elan breaking a large number of sections of the Highway Traffic Act between Ottawa and Plum Hollow, Ontario.  I neglected to mention earlier that the high concept of the Cheese Run involved back roads and as much velocity as you dared, the objective being get there fast and drive back at a leisurely pace.  The parking lot of the Plum Hollow Cheese Factory was occasionally the scene of other customers complaining about the smell of hot brakes mixed with the feral reek of clutches, engines and tires pushed beyond their design limits, as the Cheese Runners scanned the local roads for any sign of the police.   

To this day we get the hankering from time to time for the exquisite squeak of curds and drive at a leisurely pace to St. Albert.  Yes, you can buy their products in grocery stores.  Not but five blocks from here is a Metro supermarket that sells their wares, but it isn’t quite the same as going to the cheese factory and getting them at the company store, not 30 feet from where they were created earlier that day.              

Unfortunately on Sunday morning a fire broke out and burned the whole operation to the ground.  St. Albert’s has promised to rebuild and will shift their operations to another plant near Mirabel, Quebec in the interim.  There will still be cheese curds in our household, except now, we’ll have to drive to hell and gone to get them.               

Snack Cakery

The previous post seems to have struck a nerve of comment on snack cakery, with more comments than usual.  Which brought up memories of various snack cake creations we have consumed. 

Up here in Canada we have most of the same concoctions consumed below the 49th, save some of the regional oddities like Whoopee Pies.  Our menu includes the Jos. Louis, May West, Au Caramel and the Passion Flakie.  Most are from a company with a long pedigree, Vachon Inc. from Ste Marie de Beauce, in Quebec who were purveyors of sugar bombs starting in 1923 under the steady hand of Joseph-Arcade and Rose-Anna Vachon-Giroux.  It is now owned by Saputo Inc. and is also the Canadian licensee for Twinkies.

The Jos. Louis (pronounced Joe Looey, or ‘dejuner tabernac!’ depending on your background) is technically two five-inch red-velvet cake rounds with a cream filling and the whole works coated in chocolate.  The originals of my childhood vintage actually were coated in real milk chocolate that melted gleefully on your hands. 

The current version is the impervious and inert “chocolately” coating with a cream filling that has too many syllables in the ingredient list to be considered an actual food.  The red-velvet cake is red because of the 55 gallon drum of red dye that is slopped into each batch of the cake.  This is the same dye used to make explosive dye packs for the Banking Industry, blood hits for film special effects or smoke markers for Search and Rescue.  Conceptually, there is cocoa in the cake.  Once a shift a photo of a can of cocoa is shown to the machines while a worker yells “Cocoa!” over the din of the depositors.

The May West (originally by Stuart’s) is the same deal, except it is white cake, instead of the red velvet pseudo-cake variety with the same .0004 inch ‘chocolately’ coating that leaves your mouth feeling like you’re just engaged in an act of oral intimacy with a block of Tenderflake lard which was recorded on a cell phone and is now being posted online.  Eating one makes you feel that dirty. 

Cream filling, technically should be butter, sugar, air and vanilla, perhaps shortening and some milk.  However, in commercial manufacture if you use enough horsepower, heat and pressure, you can get melted beef lips or rendered ostrich pelvis to off-gas enough lipids to whip and remain shelf-stable.  Spray enough fake vanillin at it to kill the smell, bleach it polar white with the same chemicals used in the pulp and paper industry (or add titanium dioxide powder) and you get a Universal Manufacturing Goo that you can blow-mold into anything from flotation devices for the cottage dock, or cream filling for confectionary from the Jos. Louis, to the Twinkie.  Done correctly, you can produce 1500 liters of cream filling out of the things you find in your sofa cushions plus a late-night delivery from an unlicensed, pop-up abattoir.

The cream filling gives you a lipid hit equivalent to a melted margarine colonic irrigation by a lady named Helga.  You leave feeling bloated, coated and them surprisingly emptied of your entire soul out a bodily orifice you would not expect to be that kind of pathway.

You see, commercial manufacturing of snack cakes has nothing whatsoever to do with nutrition, baking, flavours or food.  It has everything to do with the lowest possible cost per unit, with the fastest possible production of the most shelf-stable product with the widest distribution imaginable.  Costs are manipulated to the tenth of a cent and the accountants in collusion with the marketers are continually massaging the manufacturing process to get the product to the point where you’ll pay, but won’t complain enough to cause fuss or ruckus with the stock price.  This is called “adding value”.

This is not to say that snack cakes are evil, or will cause unrest in the world.  Just keep in mind that what you are eating is worthless in every measurable vector, except the few moments of childhood pleasure you get in revisiting a old friend, be they Twinkies, Jos. Louis, May West, Drakes, Ho-Ho’s or Swiss Rolls.  That moment lasts until you actually taste the treat. 

Like your aspiring-to-become-white-trash fifteenth cousins who have PVR’d all the episodes of Hillbilly Handfishin to play them back to back on Oscar night, one visit to the Snack Cake aisle every five years is about all you need.

Twinkies Out

With the impending demise of Life As We Know It, at least according to the Mayan calendar, the Hostess Company is determined to push everyone completely over the edge before the New Apocalypse.  Hostess Brands, Inc. is shutting down operations across the US, which also means the minions that make Twinkies will be out of a job. 

Twinkies, that high-sugar sponge-cake related product with a “creamy” filling is going to go away, at least under Hostess’ watch.  Ostensibly shuttering their doors because of a labour dispute, but more because of corporate debt, managerial turmoil and unions unwilling to give up half their salaries and all their benefits (funny that), Hostess Brands has decided to say to hell with another Chapter 11 bankruptcy/re-org and simply pull the handle, flushing itself into the corporate oblivion of selling itself off to the highest bidder.

One of the marquee brands is of course, Twinkies.  For those readers from off North America, or possibly from Mars, who don’t know the Twinkie, herewith a description:

A finger length white sponge snack cake unit injected with a white creamy filling.  Originally invented in Schiller Park, Illinois in 1930 by J.A. Dewar, a baker for the Continental Baking Company, it was originally injected with banana cream.  WW2 saw bananas rationed beyond reality, so the company switched it up to vanilla cream and there it sat, at least until today. 

Eyeballing the 37 ingredients in a Twinkie, you can pronounce many of them and see for yourself that consumption of one results in 13% of your daily intake of saturated fats, as well as 42% of the volume being sugars, 21% complex carbs and 11% fat by weight.  There are urban rumours that Twinkies don’t have a Sell-By date, it’s more of a Half-Life and that after a nuclear war, the only things left would be cockroaches and Twinkies.  The few times we have personally consumed these little golden torpedoes of sugar, we were left with a feeling that someone had forcibly shellacked our mouth with tallow, no doubt from the creamy filling, of which one of the ingredients is beef fat. 

We will not disparage the Twinkie, as we do recognize that the occasional sweet treat is perfectly fine.  We have been to a Hostess Factory store in Irving, Texas and seen sentient humans carrying out multiple 64-count flats of Twinkies to their cars, crammed with squalling young in the grips of the sugar-withdrawal-shakes.  We don’t judge and one could suppose that Mom and Dad were simply unable to afford the Ativan and Haloperidol prescriptions, choosing to self-medicate their flock with something less expensive but with the same disturbing side effects. No, we’re not going to judge.

Twinkies are very much a cultural touchstone and there are many suitors waiting in the Bankruptcy Court wings, waiting to buy the brand.  Twinkies will not die.  They’ll just change, soon to be manufactured in Guatemala in a government-run program to give jobs to indentured orphan children under five years of age and long-sentence federal prisoners a chance to work for enough food to keep from starving.  Or some company in China will buy the trademark and off-shore the manufacturing to that cutting-edge hotbed of high-quality food manufacturing, North Korea.

Think of your current stash as Old Twinkies.  The next batch will be New Twinkies.

Free Speech Has A Cost

If you’re not familiar with Chick-fil-A restaurants and the controversy going on now, we’ll give you the short form.

Chick-fil-A was founded by S. Truett Cathy as the Dwarf Grill in Hapeville, Georgia in 1946.  The first proper Chick-fil-A opened in Atlanta’s Greenbriar Mall in 1967 and has since expanded to 1,614 restaurants across the US, mostly in the South.  We’ve eaten at a few and they do a fine chicken sandwich, perhaps one of the best chain chicken sandwiches around.  One of their iconic ads is a picture of a cow with a hand-scrawled caption of “Eat mor chickin” to encourage customers to avoid the beef. 

Chick-fil-A’s leadership has never hidden its Christian values.  For instance, all of them are closed on Sundays.  The reason a quick-service restaurant is closed Sunday?  “He (founder Truett Cathy) has often shared that his decision was as much practical as spiritual.  He believes that all franchised Chick-fil-A Operators and Restaurant employees should have an opportunity to rest, spend some time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so.”  Fair enough, actually kind of noble, in that a successful restaurateur recognizes that his folks need at least one day off a week.

Where the controversy has arisen is in the corporate donation side of the house.  Being a “Christian values” corporation, Chick-fil-A has donated money to various groups like Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council who, it would be accurate to say, are not exactly thrilled with those who are in favour of same-sex marriage, which has caused some outrage in LGBT groups.  Some groups say that Chick-fil-A is actively anti-gay based on their donation record.  Others, notably the mayors of Boston and Chicago are not willing to grant business licenses to Chick-fil-A based on the political beliefs of the Cathy family and the Chick-fil-A corporation.

Here’s where it gets sticky.  The Chick-fil-A corporation is a privately held, very successful company that wears its heart and beliefs on its sleeve.  No question.  Also, no question they have the right to do so. 

Other groups, like Equality Matters, also have their hearts on their sleeves and are advocating for a broad acceptance of all the spectrum of sexuality, including marriage, in an inclusive manner.  No question and no question they have the right to do so.

So what is a person to do?  If you live in the South and don’t agree with Chick-fil-A’s belief set, then don’t eat at Chick-fil-A, if it is important enough to you.  Don’t give them your money. 

If you want a good chicken sandwich and don’t give a rat’s ass about the politics of the corporation serving it to you, go to Chick-fil-A and order the Spicy Chicken Sandwich.  It’s good. 

If you’re concerned about family values and the Chick-fil-A belief set meshes with yours, then order two Spicy Chicken Sandwiches, or a  Chick-n-Strips tray for the office.  Know that your cheque will go to their bottom line and some of it will dribble out to groups that share your belief set.  All good.

What bothers us is the sheer volume of media whining on both sides about the whole subject that conveniently skips over the whole issue of Free Speech.  That is that Free Speech has a cost.

The cost of Free Speech is that you will also hear opinions that are contradictory to the ones you hold dear.  Some will be forceful, others will be muted, but there are always at least two, usually several dozen sides to any argument.  The obligation of Free Speech is to let the others be heard after you have had your chance.  Don’t agree?  Then agree to not agree and leave content.

And also to remember, that there are no black vans cruising around, looking for LGBT people to scoop off the street forcing them to eat at Chick-fil-A.  Just as there are no rainbow coloured vans trolling outside churches playing “Brokeback Mountain” on big screens trying to recruit new members.  

For heaven’s sake, it’s just chicken.  Express your opinion with your wallet.

We’re Just Askin’

The question “why” is a double-edged sword that can lead the wielder of the weapon into madness.  Small children sometimes become enamored of “why’ as a way to stave off bedtime, starting with the basic “Why is the sky blue?” and devolving rapidly into assessments of grammar, science and sociology that the harried parent is unable to satisfactorily answer.

As a grownup, at least on paper, “why” has always been a personal means to an end.  So much contemporary life is utter foolishness imposed upon us by well-meaning, but moronic, process-monkeys who haven’t had an original thought since 1974.  Asking “why” and getting the moron in charge to admit he or she has no earthy idea why, usually results in no tangible changes, but at least you both know and acknowledge that the system is irredeemably pooched.

To wit:

If you’re economically oppressed and marginalized by your society, why would you trash your own economically oppressed and marginalized neighbourhood?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to go to the rich part of town to trash their stores, homes and cars?  They’re the ones purportedly screwing you over, so taking revenge on the wealthy would only seem to make sense.  Besides, the rich have nicer stuff than your next door neighbour, who is just as economically oppressed and societally marginalized as you are.  London rioters, are you listening?

Deserts are by definition, lacking in water with a concomitant lack of arable land to support the production of food or support of any form of animal husbandry.  Why do people insist on living there and why do we in the Western world seem all astonished that there is a drought that is killing hundred of fellow humans every day?  Perhaps all the well-meaning charitable donations should be going to a very large school to teach humans to not live in deserts.  This would include Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas, a goodly piece of Texas, most of New Mexico and enough of Africa to make your eyes hurt.

If the rest of the market is offering 1% return on investment and some guy in a suit is promising you 12%, why do you think the guy in the suit knows more about things than five thousand other experts?  He’s either lying or selling heroin to kindergarten children.  Either scenario mean you are never going to see your money again, so don’t write the cheque in the first place.    If you have, take your lumps for being a dumb-ass and shut the hell up.  This would include those who decry the AAA ratings fall for the US and blame it on everyone except their own mindless greed.  It would seem that nobody on Wall Street is losing their job over it.  You can’t spend more money than you have and that applies to people, businesses and countries. 

When someone runs their shopping cart into your ankle, why do we apologize for being in their way?  They’re the ones being inattentive, boorish and stupid, while we’re hopping on one leg, trying to staunch the flow of arterial blood.  Perhaps they should be the ones apologizing for their own idiocy and we should be gracious enough to not call them the names we hear in our head.

Some would say I have a pleasant if lupine smile.  Why can I not smile during a passport or driver’s license photo?  I don’t normally look like I’ve just had someone forcefully insert an unlubricated 8-inch catadioptric telescope up my rear orifice, but that is the resulting photo.  However, with a little clever timing, one can game the transit pass photo process with a picture that actually resembles the bearer.

Our food is an endless series of questions.  How is a country half-way around the world able to grow, produce, pack, ship and distribute a simple allium, namely garlic, for less than half the price than a farm twelve kilometers away from my kitchen can produce it for?  They’re either growing it on a toxic waste dump, using prison camp labour, or a combination of all of the above, with mammoth government subsidies.  What possible political benefit can we possibly reap from putting our farmers out of work, aside from having to build more jails for their kids who will have no job prospects?  Why are we letting this stuff into our country?

Chocolately Coating.  At one time a chocolate bar contained chocolate.  Today, it is no longer a chocolate bar, it is ‘candy’ which means it can contain anything the manufacturer chooses.  If that means a combination of ski wax, Vaseline and corn husks, wrapped in Mylar, then that’s what we get.  The film of chocolately coating on a Crispy Crunch means you have to rinse your mouth with acetone to get rid of the taste.  Why do we let them get away with it, when we have the ability to exact fiscal revenge on the manufacturer by not buying their product?  If you can’t pronounce the first five ingredients of any packaged food and that includes chocolate bars, you are ill-advised to put your hard-earned money down on the counter, regardless of age.

As you can see, “why” is very powerful.  Remember to ask it. 





There is something inherently good about bacon.  To purgatory with broccoli, soy, wheatgrass or edamame, bacon is Nature’s Nearly Perfect Food.  It is the belly of a pig, cured in a salt brine, then smoked for your enjoyment.  Fried in a pan, the fat melts away, leaving goodness behind to titillate your taste buds with a symphony of four-part fatty harmonies overlaying the salty melody and a crunchy bass line. 

Be it from the belly, the side, the back, the jowl or even the shoulder, bacon is good.  If it weren’t for the inherent health risks, most of us, being honest, would eat bacon four times a day, every day.  Even those with dietary restrictions long for the beauty of bacon.  Why do you think some cultures brine, spice and smoke beef?  To approximate the taste of that most terrible of treyf:  Bacon.

Today, bacon is most commonly sold cooked and ready to eat.  Fourteen slices, or barely 200 grams that you can microwave for 11 seconds and put next to the eggs and toast.  Someone in a boardroom somewhere decided, after much market research, that we didn’t want a half kilo or a pound of bacon, we just wanted fourteen slices after cooking. 

We wouldn’t notice that each slice was cut so thin that it only had one side.  We wouldn’t notice that each slice was barely big enough to qualify for adhesive bandage membership.  We wouldn’t notice that the price per pound was up over $5.  We surely wouldn’t object if the actual product tastes almost exactly not like bacon at all, corners being cut for production convenience.  Most assuredly, we consumers would be amazed by the blazing beacon of bacon convenience, pre-sliced, pre-cooked and pre-measured for our convenience and their profit.     

Which is why today’s bacon is so distressing.  Bacon is not supposed to be so thin that your can do Thai shadow puppets through it.  A certain burger chain advertises their creation as having six strips of bacon.  If the measure ‘strip’ is equivalent to the lineal dimensions of the Penny Black stamp, yes, it has six strips of transparent smoked and salted pork-residue related product.  Bacon was created to have substance, heft and taste; not just of fat, salt and smoke, but also the taste of Pork. 

Bacon, until metrification stirred the waters in Canada, circa 1971, was sold by the pound.  454 grams of raw, salty, smoked Grace that you had to cook.  You could buy it unsliced, as a plate of bacon that you cut as thick as you wanted, or chopped it into cubes of Goodness for perogies. 

There was also the niche product called Green Bacon, salt brined (but not smoked) pork belly, which has gone MIA from the marketplace;  It is more profitable for the manufacturers to turn it into pseudo-bacon and shovel at us in a resealable package as part of a marriage proposal. 

By the way, notice the weight of that convenient resealable package of potential goodness.  Is is actually a metric-standard 500 grams?  Is it 454 grams, the convenient and familiar pound?  Nope, it’s less but still priced at what you would expect for a pound of bacon bliss.  It just looks like its a pound.  Read the label.

However, there are still some practitioners of the Noble Art of Bacon, who sell their products in your average supermarket.  You have to root around on the bacon altar to find them, but they’re there.  There is a PC-brand “Olde Fashioned – Farm Style” kilogram package that tastes like bacon, has enough heft per slice to have a full three dimensions and actually contains lean meat as part of the slice.  Occasionally some western brands sneak over the Ontario-Manitoba border that taste and look like bacon.  Frenchy’s comes to mind.

In Quebec, there are several producers that take their art seriously.  In the Spring, you can get Oreilles de crisse, which is brined, smoked and deep-fried pork jowl.  The literal translation from Quebecois is Christ’s Ears, but despite the confusing and disturbing moniker, it’s bacon:  Excellent, perfectly proportioned lean to fat to salt to smoke, bacon, served screechingly hot with eggs poached in amber #2 maple syrup.  Yes, it’s more calories than most people eat in a month, but once a year, it’s a dietary choice you make, then enjoy.   

There are regional brands that bring burning wood smoke near the pork bellies instead of showing four tons of frozen pork a photo of a smoker and yelling “Hickory”.  There is even a Bacon of the Month Club.  Look it up if you don’t believe it.

I have personally consumed artisanal oak-double-smoked bacon that transcends mere rhapsodic linguistic gymnastics to land and stick a half-gainer dismount onto the crunchy scented floor of Bacon Heaven outside Flavour Town:  A now-closed butcher shop made it in the back.  It wasn’t merely good Bacon; it was Communion.    

As chef and author Anthony Bourdain said: “God lives between the skin and the bone of a pig”  Amen Brother Tony.  Amen.